President Trump to Open Skies for Companies to Test Commercial Drones

November 20, 2017 - Demetrius Pyburn

Drone-image-11-20-17.jpgRecently, President Trump issued a Presidential Memorandum purporting to relax rules for testing of commercial drones by private sector corporations. The Memorandum proposes that more companies should be allowed to fly their unmanned aircrafts at night, above people and travel longer distances.

Currently, private companies can already receive a Part 107 waiver, Part 333 exemption and/or authorization from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in order to operate their drones beyond the line of sight. Part 107 is required for individuals who want to fly their drones commercially, referred to as a “Remote Pilot Certificate.” A large majority of the drone operators have this Certificate and it permits them to operate drones under 55 pounds within the line of sight, in the daylight, less than 100 MPH, and below 400ft. Part 107 contains a specific section listing what regulations are waivable. An individual can apply to the FAA for a certificate of waiver. Section 333 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 (FMRA) grants the Secretary of Transportation the authority to determine whether an airworthiness certificate is required for a drone to operate safely in the National Airspace System (NAS). The Section 333 Exemption process provides operators who wish to pursue safe and legal entry into the NAS a competitive advantage in the UAS marketplace, thus discouraging illegal operations and improving safety.

The pilot program proposed in the Presidential Memorandum enables local, state, or tribal governments to determine what kind of activities will be allowed in their jurisdictions during the period of the pilot program, although that activity will still be subject to FAA safety oversight. In other words, governmental entities will be allowed to partner with corporations in order to test drone operations and control the extent of these operations. It also gives a wider range of private operators and localities the chance to propose solutions to integration challenges.

The Department of Transportation (DOT) will work with states and local governments to create pilot programs. For example, a company may be allowed to integrate a drone operation into national airspace at levels below 200 feet above ground or up to 400 feet above ground if such an adjustment would be appropriate.  Or a company may be granted permission to operate commercial drones during the hours of 2 AM and 4 AM. These pilot programs are expected to be put in place within one year. According to the DOT, the results of the Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Integration Pilot Program will be used to speed up the safe assimilation of drones into national airspace, which will in turn showcase the benefits of this emerging technology in the U.S. economy.

This would be a win for companies like Amazon and Google, as well as media companies, all of which have been hindered by federal restrictions. The policy behind the lessened restrictions is to promote “continued technological innovation and to ensure the global leadership of the United States in this emerging industry.”

Consequently, the Memorandum does not answer questions about the pilot program and how it would be implemented, including how many drones can be a part of the program.

In conclusion, the Federal Aviation Administration is still deliberating potential rules for commercial drones which will have more impact than this Executive Memorandum. Ultimately the DOT and FAA will create a federal regulatory framework for UAS/drones “that will allow more complex low-altitude operations; identify ways to balance local and national interests; improve communications with local, state and tribal jurisdictions; address security and privacy risks; and accelerate the approval of operations that currently require special authorizations.”

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