President Trump Loosens the Reins on Drone Testing

October 27, 2017 - 4 minutes read

Image Source: The Fiscal Times

President Donald Trump recently issued a presidential memorandum that will surely please commercial¬†drone app developers¬†all over the United States. If carried through, Mr. Trump’s plan could expedite the progress towards a future where drones deliver everything from Amazon orders to pizza.

Making Delivery Drones Possible in the U.S.A.

Signed by Trump on Wednesday, the memorandum would relax some of the rules surrounding commercial drone testing. Under this plan, drones would be able to do things like fly over people’s heads, operate at night, carry packages, and travel greater distances than current federal restrictions allow.

All of these activities are essential for drones to make deliveries and film cinematography. Trump’s plan appears to be focused on making it possible for businesses to accomplish these things in the United States.

Currently, big contenders in the commercial drone market, like Amazon and Google, run test flights in the United Kingdom and Australia. Both places are far less stringent about drones than the United States.

A Turbulent History

This recent drone victory was not an overnight one. For years, Intel, Amazon, Google, and quite a few Hollywood companies urged the Obama administration to relax the rules on commercial drones. Amazon even had plans for a sort of delivery drone highway system in which the unmanned aerial vehicles would occupy a lower altitude range.

In August 2016, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the U.S. Department of Transportation released a set of rules meant to govern how businesses could utilize drones. Unfortunately, local governments and lawmakers for each state applied their own interpretations of these laws that often thwarted any attempts at using drones commercially. This is what led companies like Amazon and Google to take their drone testing elsewhere.

Trump’s drone program attempts to address this particular issue by including local authorities, the federal government, and some of the aforementioned companies in the process of creating drone regulations that are fair for everyone. For the most part, tech companies have an optimistic outlook.

Greg McNeal, co-founder of AirMap, explains his enthusiasm: “The beauty of this program is that the White House is allowing everyone from cities to states to tribal authorities to apply [to be apart of this process.]” AirMap is a Los Angeles mobile app developer that helps drone traffic stay organized and aware through its platform.

An Uncertain Future

The resulting pilot programs from this memorandum are expected to commence within a year and last until approximately 2020. Besides the few details mentioned above, many other aspects of Trump’s plan remain a mystery, and many more obstacles still lie ahead.

There was no elaboration on funding for the program or how participants would be chosen. Also, how partnerships between local authorities, the federal government, and companies would actually function was not discussed in detail. Considering their tumultuous past, these parties are more likely to run into the same arguments as before, rather than seamlessly agreeing on regulations this time around.

Besides this, the FAA is still ironing out their own set of regulations for commercial drone operations. These are actually expected to carry much more weight than Trump’s memorandum. While it may not be the conclusive victory they were hoping for, many drone advocates still feel optimistic about Trump’s announcement. “Overall, this is a hugely important step forward,” says Lisa Ellman, an attorney who helps run the Commercial Drone Alliance advocacy group. “The intent is to open up the skies to commercial drones. It will help us gather data to inform future rule making.”

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