The Drone Integration Pilot Program Is an Opportunity for All of Us

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Yesterday, the White House and the Department of Transportation announced a new initiative called the Drone Integration Pilot Program.

According to the press release, the program will involve a select number of cities or towns that will work with the private sector to solve some of the longstanding barriers and challenges that we in the drone industry have been facing, such as BVLOS flights and package delivery.

State, tribal, and local governments that want to take part in the program will partner with the private sector to develop proposals, which they will submit to the Department of Transportation. A minimum of five participants will be selected.

I applaud the federal government’s decision to create this initiative. The Drone Integration Pilot Program presents a tremendous opportunity for the entire drone industry—this is our chance to tackle the issues that have prevented us from realizing the full potential of drones to innovate and transform our economy.

If package delivery is piloted and proved successful, our industry will be several steps closer toward realizing the potential of drones in last-mile delivery. We all know that BVLOS prohibitions have been a huge sticking point for certain important use cases, especially in line inspections and agriculture. And regardless of your business model or use cases, we can all benefit from reliable and secure data links.

Already I’ve seen a few people objecting to this initiative on the Internet. There seems to be a misinformed assumption, shared by a few, that the Drone Integration Pilot Program means that our National Airspace System has been sold to corporations or local governments. That isn’t true.

Let me be very clear: I speak for myself and for Skyward when I say that our goal is consistent federal regulations that are in favor of drone operators—individual entrepreneurs and big companies alike. We are opposed to a fractured patchwork of varying state and local drone regulations, in which some operators would lose simply by virtue of their geography.

Let me say it another way: We are not advocating for corporate control of the National Airspace System. The airspace is a public commons, and access to it should continue to be equitable. This is a philosophical position, and it’s one that we stand by. It’s why Skyward will continue providing our Airspace Map to our free Pilot Accounts, including LAANC access when the feature goes live next week.

From my perspective, the Drone Integration Pilot Program will catalyze this new era of aviation; it will force government and industry to ask tough questions and work together to come up with safe, efficient technological solutions.

The Department of Transportation anticipated that there will be many questions surrounding this initiative and have set up an FAQ page.  

The official White House Memorandum details selection criteria, and the Department of Transportation says they will enter into formal agreements within 180 days. You can bet that Skyward will be submitting proposals in partnership with government. Regardless of whether we are selected, I’m confident that the results of this initiative will help all of us who love drones and believe so strongly in their potential to progress and innovate.