FAA drone innovation zones see flood of applications to participate

Dec. 1, 2017

The Trump administration has looked to excise some “overly burdensome” drone regulations

President Donald Trump issued a mandate last month that would roll back some “overly burdensome” Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations on the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones.

The new initiative proposes to set up “innovation zones” in certain state and local jurisdictions where drone operators could test the technology outside the visual line of sight, near people and at night. Those conditions are restricted by the FAA if the operator lacks a waiver.

The U.S. Department of Transportation and the FAA are already accepting proposals to participate in the “Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Pilot Program,” according to a Federal Register notice.

As of this week, more than 1,800 separate entities, including individual drone operators, have listed their names on an FAA spreadsheet as “interested parties,” according to a FedBizOpps posting.

The pilot program intends to open the national airspace to select parties whose drone solutions could be useful in “agriculture, commerce, emergency management, human transportation and other sectors,” according to Trump’s memo, addressed to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao. Their technology might lead to “novel, low-cost capabilities” for use in both the public and private sectors.

The FAA expects to award at least five memoranda of agreement following the proposal process, with each expected to last up to three years. The federal government is not providing additional funding for these proposals.

According to Trump’s memo, federal drone oversight should be “sufficiently flexible to keep pace with the advancement of [UAV] technology, while balancing the vital federal roles in protecting privacy and civil liberties; mitigating risks to national security and homeland security; and protecting the safety of the American public, critical infrastructure, and the nation's airspace.”

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