The Trump administration is making moves to establish a coherent federal policy governing the use of drones in delivery applications.
A presidential memorandum issued Wednesday, Oct. 25, directs the Department of Transportation to establish a pilot program inviting state and local governments, in partnership with private entities, to enter into agreements with the Federal Aviation Administration for sweeping waivers of current regulations on activities like flying at night and over people.
According to Politico.com, the DOT has six months to enter into at least five agreements pertaining to delivery drone operation, and the program is set to last three years. The information gathered from local and state experiments with drone operations will inform future regulatory actions.
FAA has been clear that it thinks state and local participation will be necessary for the foreseeable future, Politico notes. The memorandum states that "input from state, local, tribal, and private-sector stakeholders will be necessary to craft an optimal strategy for the national management of [unmanned aircraft system] operations. A coordinated effort between the private sector and among these governments will provide certainty and stability to UAS owners and operators, maximize the benefits of UAS technologies for the public, and mitigate risks to public safety and security."
The White House said a flexible regulatory framework is needed to "promote continued technological innovation and to ensure the global leadership of the United States in this emerging industry."
The memorandum allows for proposals for drone operations up to 200 feet above ground or even 400 feet where appropriate. More details will come in a federal register notice in the coming days or weeks.
Rep. Jason Lewis (R-Minn.), who had previously proposed a similar program, said the pilot should go even further in allowing states and municipalities to set restrictions on drone flights. "Amazon wants to take that delivery right down your avenue on Sunday morning," Lewis told Politico. "The question is, who should decide that?"
Additionally, Politico reports, FAA is looking for applications submitted jointly from a state or municipality and a private entity for a specific program. Ideally, the applications would be from "a commercial operation or first responder operation or, quite frankly, anything innovative that a community would want to employ and partner with a private entity to conduct," according to a DOT official cited by Politico. This move is part of an effort on the part of the FAA to learn how potential operators plan to use drones without being a nuisance for people on the ground. Concerns about drones used for snooping in private areas will be addressed as well.