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Yesterday, the Department of Transportation (“DOT”) published details of the new Unmanned Aircraft System (“UAS” or “drone”) Integration Pilot Program (“Program”) in the Federal Register. The White Office of Science and Technology Policy launched this Program to  encourage State, local, and tribal governments to collaborate with private industry on innovative UAS operations.  The Program is the most significant change in UAS regulation by the Trump Administration and could lead to unprecedented opportunities for companies to test drone applications that were previously restricted.  

But time is of the essence—communities and companies must move quickly to avail themselves of the new UAS opportunities. We encourage any interested parties to begin developing a plan and submit a Notice of Intent with the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) in the coming weeks. Details of the Program are explained below and are available in the Federal Register Notice.

The White House unveiled a highly anticipated Drone Integration Pilot Program (“Program”) that will allow state and local government to test different models for low-altitude regulation of drones, also known as unmanned aircraft systems (“UAS”).  The Program represents a significant break from the Federal Aviation Administration’s (“FAA”) previous position to discourage state and local government involvement in most aspects of UAS operations and is designed to encourage private entities to undertake innovative UAS testing in the United States, such as drone package delivery.  It will create more opportunities for cutting-edge commercial UAS flights for communities and operators, but the FAA and commercial aviation will likely continue to resist expanded operations that pose safety risks, including flights near airports.

Earlier this month, a small commercial airplane collided with an unmanned aircraft system (“UAS” or drone) during its final descent into Jean Lesage International Airport in Quebec City, Canada.  After numerous near-misses, this was the first confirmed collision between a drone and a commercial aircraft in North America.  The incident has renewed UAS safety and enforcement concerns, but also highlights opportunities and tools necessary to further improve the system. 

As the California wildfires grow with devastating impacts on human life, property, and business, the potential unmanned aircraft system (UAS or drone) benefits and risks for firefighting (re)emerge.  UAS stakeholders, including firefighters, are realizing the potential life-saving and fire response applications of UAS.  Meanwhile, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and local emergency services remain on high alert for UAS that pose a risk to emergency responses.

Today, a federal judge struck down a Newton, Massachusetts, ordinance regulating drone operations in the city, holding that the ordinance was preempted based on Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) regulations and federal statutes. Saying the ordinance “essentially constitutes a wholesale ban on drone use” and was an “interven[tion] in the FAA’s careful regulation of aircraft safety,” District Judge William G. Young reaffirmed the FAA’s broad jurisdiction over drones (also known as unmanned aircraft systems or “UAS”) in national airspace.