October 2017 

New Presidential Directive Announces Pilot Project
on Local Government Role in Drone Integration

By Kevan Stone, NACo Associate Legislative Director, Transportation
     Christopher Harvey, NACo Legislative Assistant

On October 25, President Trump signed a Presidential Memorandum directing the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to create guidelines for a pilot program allowing local governments to participate in Unmanned Aircraft Systems (“UAS” or “Drone”) Integration. The memorandum directs the framework to be developed and participants in place within the next twelve months.

The memorandum outlines three main objectives that would increase county involvement in drone integration. First, the directive will allow DOT and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to enter into agreements with state, local and tribal governments to create “innovation zones” for testing new UAS operations. These agreements will also allow local governments to propose and evaluate models expanding the county role in the integration of UAS into the national airspace system.
The second objective encourages the private sector and local governments to collaboratively operate drones in ways currently permitted by FAA regulations but not widely used, such as operations beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS), night time operations and flights over people. Details on these operations have not been determined and will be released by DOT once formulated. The third objective compiling data from the various pilot programs to assess results across the country.

Additionally, a key aspect of this directive for counties is that any county may apply to participate, and there is no cap on the number of participating jurisdictions. As the criteria for applications emerge, an unlimited number of local governments will have the ability to decide whether they want to participate in this pilot program. 

The White House, in a call with local government stakeholders, acknowledged the importance of the use of UAS technology by local entities, mentioning crop and infrastructure inspection as well as search and rescue operations as vital projects local governments can complete through drone use. However, the directive makes no mention of zoning, privacy and property rights, which are often key issues for local governments regarding drone usage. Individual communities will have the ability to incorporate privacy concerns through their participation in the pilot program.

NACo has been at the forefront of policymaking as it pertains to UAS implementation. From being the only local government organization to have representation on the FAA Drone Advisory Committee and its subcommittees, being a recognized leader on Capitol Hill for drone pilot programs, county governments are ready to shape the debate about drone usage and position local governments as major stakeholders. NACo looks forward to its continued collaboration with the White House, DOT and legislators on Capitol Hill to ensure counties continue to have a seat at the table as the details of this pilot program are crafted.

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