WASHINGTON – To hasten the development of commercial drones, the Trump administration invited state, local and tribal governments Wednesday to establish experimental zones to test complex operations for remote-controlled aircraft.

The goal pf the program from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy is to spur the development of uses such as deliveries and agricultural surveys. The experimental program also aims to test the detection and tracking of drones, and traffic-management systems to guide where they fly.

“Our nation will move faster, fly higher, and soar proudly toward the next great chapter of American aviation,” President Trump said in a statement. He was expected to sign a memorandum creating the program Wednesday.

The industry is expected to grow dramatically as regulations are adopted. More than 1 million drone operators registered with the FAA, despite a federal court halted mandatory registration this year. The administration estimates the number of commercial drones could increase five-fold by 2021.


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The administration said aviation pioneers need regulations that encourage innovation while ensuring safety.

The Federal Aviation Administration created six experimental sites nationwide in 2013 to test functions such as flying a drone farther away than a pilot can see or flying over crowds.

The FAA also has an experimental program called Pathfinder for companies such as BNSF Railroad to test drones. For example, FAA recently granted the first special waiver for flying over crowds to CNN for news gathering.

The safety concerns about drones include collisions with other aircraft, or with hurting people or damaging property on the ground.

The FAA has sometimes come into conflict with state and local governments seeking to regulate drones for privacy or weapons because the FAA contends it has sole regulatory authority over the skies.

But the administration said the government’s regulatory framework is outdated and limits the integration into sharing the skies with passenger planes.

The administration concern is that technology companies are testing and deploying drones overseas, instead. Project Wing is testing in Australia, Amazon is testing in the United Kingdom and Zipline is flying operationally in Rwanda.

The administration plan calls for:

♦The Transportation Department and FAA to create innovation zones with local governments within a year. 

♦Drone companies and local governments to fly drones such as at night, farther than the pilot can see and over people, so that FAA can evaluate the performance.

♦Governments to collect information about traffic management of drones, to determine how they can safely fly with planes.

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