Safely Integrating Drones into the National Airspace

The US Department of Transportation (DOT) has announced its Drone Integration Pilot Program. The program is an opportunity to connect state, local, and tribal governments with private-sector entities with a goal of safely integrating drones into the national airspace.

In less than a decade, the potential economic benefit of integrated unmanned aerial systems into the nation’s airspace is estimated to equal as much as $82 billion and create up to 100,000 jobs.

The UAS Integration Pilot Program is an opportunity for state, local, and tribal governments to partner with private sector entities, such as UAS operators or manufacturers, to accelerate safe UAS integration. Entities that wish to participate in the program form teams and submit proposals to the FAA to fly more advanced UAS operations, such as beyond visual line-of-sight or over people.

The Program is expected to provide immediate opportunities for new and expanded commercial UAS operations, foster a meaningful dialogue on the balance between local and national interests related to UAS integration, and provide actionable information to the Department of Transportation (DOT) on expanded and universal integration of UAS into the National Airspace System (NAS).

U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said DOT is invested in drone industry innovation, but not at the expense of community safety. “The drone pilot program will accelerate the safe integration of drones into our airspace by creating new partnerships between local governments, the FAA, and private drone operators,” she said. “These partnerships will allow local communities to experiment with new technologies like package delivery, emergency drone inspections, and more on terms that work for them and in ways that support a unified and safe airspace.”

Initial program applicants who receive approval could begin deploying drones under the limitations coordinated and agreed to with FAA within 180 days. The program will last for three years.