In a move long anticipated by the UAV industry, last week Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao announced the details of a the new federal Drone Integration Pilot Program. Joined by scores of industry leaders, drone operators, first responders and law enforcement officials, Ms. Chao announced that the DOT had placed a preliminary draft outlining the application process in the federal register on November 2. The Department published the final draft on Nov. 8, 2017.
The much-touted pilot program will pair state, local and tribal governments and private-sector operators with the goal of developing and implementing new concepts that are not currently in use. These include flights over people and beyond visual line of sight, detect and avoid systems, counter-UAS security technologies and package delivery. The Federal Aviation Administration will provide guidance and oversight.
“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,” said Chao. She also called the safe integration of drones into the national airspace “the biggest technical challenge to aviation since the beginning of the Jet Age”.
After evaluating the applications, the department will choose a minimum of five partnerships to participate in the program.
Applying to the Drone Integration Pilot Program
“Lead Applicants,” (limited to state, local and tribal entities that are interested in participating in the program) must file a statement of intent to the FAA via email by Nov. 28, 2017. According to Chao, the strongest applicants will have a “well-defined framework for federal and non-federal entities in managing drone flights.” The strongest contenders will also have a “strong industry partner on board to help explore innovative operations that the FAA currently restricts, like flights beyond visual line of sight, flights at night and flights over people,” she said.
“Interested Parties” (public or private-sector prospective partners or lead applicants) must submit a request to be added to the Interested Parties List by Dec. 13, 2017. The list will consist of up to 633 prospective partners, which may include “private sector companies or organizations, UAS operators, other stakeholders, OR state/local/tribal government entities, including those that are designated Lead Applicants and those that are not,” according to the FAA.
More details on the application process and project deadlines are available on the FAA Contract Opportunities web page.
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