USA drone program taps Apple, passes over Amazon, China's DJI

Intel CEO Brian Krzanich talks about the Yuneec Typhoon H drone

The UAS (Unmanned Aircraft Systems) Integration Pilot Program is created to tackle some of the challenges of integrating drones into national airspace, particularly how to reduce risks to public safety.

USA 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.

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 point of the program announced by the president in the fall is to get cities and states to partner up with companies on drone trials and speed up the process of getting them to market.

The Transportation Department says more demonstration projects may be given the go-ahead in future rounds. "Businesses, governments, nonprofits, academics and many others want to be able to use drones in their work, and the proposals selected today will make significant progress in helping America accomplish that goal while protecting safety and addressing local concerns", Schulman said.

FedEx will use drones to inspect aircraft at its hub in Tennessee, as well as for aircraft parts shipments and some package deliveries between the airport and other Memphis locations, Memphis Airport Authority Chief Executive Scott Brockman told Reuters.

The 10 governments selected are: the cities of San Diego and Reno; the Virginia Tech Center for Innovative Technology and the University of Alaska-Fairbanks; the transportation departments of Kansas, North Carolina and North Dakota; Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma; the Lee County Mosquito Control District in Ft.

Chao mentioned several specific areas where drones can help: agriculture, commerce, health care, disaster assistance, emergency response and human transportation. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said in a 2013 "60 Minutes" interview that the company is pushing for drones to deliver products to people's doors by 2018.

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"There's a lot of excitement", said Lisa Ellman, a partner in the Washington office of law firm Hogan Lovells, who represents companies in the industry.

"A lot can proceed under the FAA's current rules", in some cases with waivers from current regulatory constraints, she said.

Federal transportation officials have announced 10 sites for a test program aimed at increasing government and commercial use of unmanned aircraft.

Numerous programs include plans to fly on longer-range operations outside of the view of a drone's ground operator.

In advance of launching a rulemaking, FAA has been testing out ideas for the remote ID requirement and has begun work on developing a computer system for it. After both are formally proposed, it would take months or even more than a year before they are finalized.

With assistance from Thomas Black.

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