Drones thrown a bone: Americans can ask nicely to go where FAA says they can't roam

Wanna fly over a music concert? Now maybe you can

A 3D Robotics Solo drone seen in flight. Pic: Ian Hudson

The US Department of Transportation is toying with allowing regional governments to set rules for drone owners that are otherwise incompatible with federal law.

In a pilot program, no pun intended, the DoT will let quadcopter fanatics work with local officials to obtain waivers to operate their gizmos in ways that might not fly, no pun intended, with the Federal Aviation Administration – such as over crowds of people at festivals, flights at night, package deliveries, and flights that travel beyond the operator's field of vision. Public bodies, such as the cops, can also try to get waivers.

"The program will help the US DOT and FAA develop a regulatory framework that will allow more complex low-altitude operations; identify ways to balance local and national interests; improve communications with local, state and tribal jurisdictions; address security and privacy risks; and accelerate the approval of operations that currently require special authorizations," the department said today.

Details on how to apply for the program will be released in "the coming days," we're told.

While the trial program is expected to run for about three years, the DoT said successful cases could lead to changes in federal rules before the trial period ends.

"The timetable for allowing any kind of operation is not tied to the lifecycle of this pilot program. The FAA allows new types of operations when it determines they can be conducted safely and subject to existing authority provided by Congress," the department explained.

"If the FAA determines a type of operation that's being evaluated as part of the pilot program could be conducted safely and routinely, the FAA could authorize that operation before the program ends." ®


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