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Trump administration pushes expanded drone use

A memo allows for greater testing by companies such as Amazon and Google-parent Alphabet.


You may soon be seeing more drones overhead, thanks to a new Trump directive.

Joshua Goldman/CNET

President Donald Trump has relaxed some of the rules governing commercial use of drones, allowing for greater testing of unmanned aerial vehicles by tech companies such as Amazon and Wing, a unit of Google parent Alphabet.

A directive Trump issued Wednesday expands testing for flights over people, nighttime operations and at far greater distances and with packages. The program encourages states and local governments to seek approval from the Federal Aviation Administration for speedy testing and expanded use.

Amazon, Alphabet and others are developing drone delivery technology, in hopes of bringing shipments faster and cheaper to customers. However, these companies still need to answer tough questions about the drones' safety and effectiveness before they can reach the public.

The move comes as the drone industry experiences meteoric growth. The FAA expects the number of commercial drones to grow from 42,000 at the end of 2016 to about 442,000 aircraft by 2021.

New FAA regulations for commercial use of drones went into effect in August 2016, making it easier for pilots to use drones for everything from structural or crop inspection to search-and-rescue operations to film production. But certain regulations, including flying over people, remained in place.

Safety and security concerns have prompted the FAA to prohibit flights of unmanned aerial vehicles near US monuments, including the Statue of Liberty, Mount Rushmore and a handful of other Interior Department sites. The FAA said it took the action at the request of the US national security and law enforcement agencies.

Earlier this month, the FAA granted a waiver allowing CNN to make routine drone flights above crowds -- the first time the federal agency awarded a waiver for unlimited flights of unmanned aerial vehicles over people.

The memo said that the Transportation Department would coordinate with the Defense Department, Homeland Security and Justice Department to mitigate public safety and national security risks in selecting proposals.

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