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US drone programme taps Apple but takes a pass on Amazon

11 May 2018

The wide interest in the US initiative, launched by President Donald Trump a year ago, underscores the desire of a broad range of companies to have a say in how the fledgling industry is regulated and ultimately win authority to operate drones for purposes ranging from package delivery to crop inspection.

U.S. transportation secretary Elain Chao announced on Wednesday that several state and local governments were to be involved in the drone testing programmes, with the creation of 10 light-touch regulatory zones for companies to test drone services.

"The enthusiastic response to our request for applications demonstrated the many innovative technological and operational solutions already on the horizon", Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said.

The communities hosting the pilot projects include San Diego, Raleigh, North Carolina, Topeka, Kansas, Reno, Nevada and Fairbanks, Alaska.

The drone testing program, launched by President Donald Trump previous year, selected ten projects that it will offer waivers to for regulations that now ban the use of drones in certain situations in the US. The FAA still must decide questions before the pilot projects begin including whether drone deliveries should follow city streets or cross backyards.

Their main priorities will include night operations, package delivery, flights over people and long distance flights beyond the pilot's line of sight.

Drone companies will be matched with state or local governments in the journey to develop the technology in various areas.

The pilot program will give certain companies permission to carry out a larger range of tests than are now permitted by federal aviation regulators.

AirMap, which offers a drone tracking service akin to an air-traffic control system, is a partner in six of the winning programs.

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Amazon has been a vocal proponent of drone delivery. So far, regulations don't permit flights over people or over long distances, and the agency has been cautious about approving waivers to allow such operations.

It has drone development centers and test sites in a variety of countries, including the U.S.as well as Britain, Austria, France and Israel.

Missing from the projects are Amazon.com Inc, the world's largest online retailer, and China's DJI, the world's largest maker of non-military drones.

The UAS Integration Pilot Program is an opportunity for state, local, and tribal governments to partner with private sector entities, such as UAS operators or manufacturers, to accelerate safe UAS integration and collect data on how to safely integrate drones in the national airspace.

Chao said companies that didn't win should keep the federal government abreast of their work, because there were "no losers" after yesterday's announcement.

The DOT culled 10 pilot projects from 149 applications. After all, piloting unmanned drones isn't necessarily the easiest thing to set up even if the regulatory red tape is cut; flying a drone straight and true isn't the easiest thing to do and that's not counting the risk of ploughing into rogue pigeons or avoiding being shot at by gun-totin' rednecks.

Earlier, the department confirmed it had sent two planned rules to the White House to regulate the increased use of unmanned aerial vehicles.

The Native American tribe will test using drones to inspect crops, livestock herds, and infrastructure.

With assistance from Thomas Black.

US drone programme taps Apple but takes a pass on Amazon