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Trump OKs pilot project for drone integration at local level

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Zoning, property rights issues still fuzzy in drone directive for pilot program welcoming local gov'ts

President Trump has signed a Presidential Memorandum directing the Department of Transportation (DOT) to create guidelines for a pilot program allowing local governments to participate in unmanned aircraft systems (“UAS” or “Drone”) integration. The memorandum directs a framework to be developed and participants in place within the next 12 months.

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The memorandum outlines three main objectives that would increase county involvement in drone integration. First, the directive will allow DOT and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to enter into agreements with state, local and tribal governments to create “innovation zones” for testing new UAS operations. These agreements will also allow local governments to propose and evaluate model policies expanding the county role in the integration of UAS into the national airspace system.

The second objective encourages the private sector and local governments to collaboratively operate drones in ways currently permitted by FAA regulations but not widely used, such as operations beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS), night time operations and flights over people. Details on these operations have not been determined and will be released by DOT once formulated. The third objective involves compiling data from the various pilot programs to assess results across the country.

A key aspect of the directive for counties is that any county may apply to participate and there is no cap on the number of participating jurisdictions. As the criteria for applications emerge, an unlimited number of local governments will have the ability to decide whether they want to participate in this pilot program. 

The White House, in a call with local government stakeholders, acknowledged the importance of the use of UAS technology by local entities, mentioning crop and infrastructure inspection as well as search and rescue operations as vital projects local governments can complete through drone use.

However, the directive makes no mention of zoning, privacy and property rights, which are often key issues for local governments regarding drone usage. Individual communities will have the ability to incorporate privacy concerns through their participation in the pilot program.

The date for the release of applications has not yet been announced.

Christopher Harvey, legislative assistant, contributed to this report. 

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