uas integration faa drone pilot program

Applications for the FAA’s drone pilot program are due tomorrow

Want your company or local government to be involved in the FAA’s drone pilot program? You have one more day to make it happen.

The FAA’s drone pilot program, formally called the UAS Integration Pilot Program, was announced in October by U.S. President Donald Trump and .S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao. The premise of the program is that the government will select five local governments who have partnered with the private sector to test drone operations that are currently illegal, and to test and weigh in on how to legalize them.

Those types of flights that are currently illegal include night flights, flights over people and flying drones beyond visual line of sight.

The pilot program has seen tremendous interest, with more than  4,300 people registered to attend the FAA’s online webinar about the program.

Of the interest private stakeholders includes DJI, the world’s largest drone manufacturer. The Chinese-company issued a public statement inviting state, local and tribal governments to consider partnering with them.

“DJI has worked for years with government officials around the world to help develop reasonable, safety-enhancing public policies while keeping open the pathways to innovation,” said Brendan Schulman, DJI Vice President of Policy and Legal Affairs in a prepared statement.

DJI’s public statement included reasons why it thinks it would be a good candidate for the FAA’s pilot program, including its work on ‘electronic license plates’ for drones in a program called AeroScope. The company has also suggested that its range of drone equipment, from its consumer-focused Spark drone to its high-end enterprise drones, as well as its software development kit, makes it a good candidate. DJI has also pioneered software to make its drones safer and to force its customers to comply with airspace rules, such as through its geofencing program which uses software from preventing drones from flying into areas that are digitally ‘fenced-off’ including near high-traffic airports and the White House.

The FAA’s drone pilot program comes at a time when some (often smaller) drone companies have expressed concerns over whether the government is playing ‘kingmaker’ by selecting certain companies to play a role in shaping drone regulations.

Among the most controversial was the FAA’s LAANC program, which farmed out the task of studying how private companies can issue drone operators instant approval to fly in controlled airspace to major companies Skyward, a subsidiary of Verizon.

“Getting exclusive access to what is essentially a national resource doesn’t seem like a fair gig at all,” said Joshua Ziering, founder of Kittyhawk, a drone-operations platform similar to Skyward. “With this, the FAA is essentially picking winners in the private industry.”

Application forms and guidelines for how to apply to the FAA’s drone pilot program can be found here.

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