DOT Approves Google But Not Amazon for Drone Test Program

Ten public-private drone test projects have been approved by the Department of Transportation for various applications, including home deliveries, but Amazon was conspicuous by its absence from the group despite its high-profile Prime Air program.

Importantly, the tests will involve drone operations that are out of line of sight of the pilot – something that has been insisted on by the Federal Aviation Administration and acted as an impediment to commercial drone deployment.

The DOT selected 10 state, local and tribal governments out of 149 applicants to participate in its Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Integration Pilot Program. The White House initiative, announced in October, partners the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) with local government bodies which in turn partner with private companies on specific drone projects.

“Data gathered from these pilot projects will form the basis of a new regulatory framework to safely integrate drones into our national airspace,” said DOT Secretary Elaine Chao in a release.

Companies that won approval include Google parent Alphabet Inc. and its Project Wing (including home deliveries in Virginia), a combined team of FedEx, Intel and General Electric (for inspecting planes and delivering aircraft parts at Memphis International Airport) and Uber (for food deliveries in San Diego).

The Project Wing test will be under the auspices of Virginia Tech, and will explore emergency management, package delivery and infrastructure inspection by drone. In addition to Alphabet, other partners include AT&T, Intel, Airbus and Dominion Energy. For the home delivery portion, local residents will provide feedback to project researchers.

“While it’s unfortunate the applications we were involved with were not selected, we support the administration’s efforts to create a pilot program aimed at keeping America at the forefront of aviation and drone innovation,” Amazon said in a statement, according to the Seattle Times. Amazon had proposed a test of drone deliveries in New York City.

Chao said there were “no losers,” encouraging companies that didn’t make this cut to pursue drone programs under the current FAA rules, according to NPR. “I have asked the FAA to reach out to many other applicants in coming months and weeks to talk about how they may be able to move forward with their proposals,” she said. However, the DOT program is designed to accelerate the approval of operations that currently require special authorizations.

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