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News & Notes

How Trump is Guiding the Future of Drones

Drone industry responds to transition selections and potential outcomes

December 9, 2016

Major players in the drone industry are already responding to President-elect Trump's 2016 election victory.

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President-elect Donald Trump and his transition team are deep in the process of selecting members of the future Trump Administration, who will shape the policies of America for the next four years — and potentially beyond. While many decisions are yet to be made, the drone industry is already responding to the forthcoming changes.

Various notable UAS groups and organizations have published speculation and response about drone use under the future Trump Administration.

For example, the Commercial Drone Alliance (the Alliance), a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting UAS end users, issued an open letter explaining the status of the UAS industry and suggesting drone-friendly appointees to President-elect Trump and his transition team. The Drone Manufacturers Alliance (DMA), founded by DJI, Parrot, 3DR, and GoPro, also published a letter to Trump.

Already, we know a number of Trump’s appointees, along with stated policy positions, that will likely affect the UAS industry in the coming years.

Elaine Chao is Trump's selection to succeed Anthony Foxx as Secretary of Transportation. 

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Secretary of Transportation

On Nov. 29, the President-elect selected Elaine Chao as his choice for the position of Secretary of Transportation. Chao has an extensive background in government, having served as both Deputy Secretary of Transportation under George H.W. Bush and Secretary of Labor under George W. Bush.

Both the Alliance and the DMA praise the selection of Chao, citing her regulatory experience. Chao was also known for her light hand with new regulations — which would likely benefit the highly regulated commercial drone industry.

“Secretary Chao is a proven leader, and we are encouraged by her long-held approach to balanced regulation,” said DMA Executive Director Kara Calvert in a statement. “We look forward to working with her and her team on policies that promote innovation and allow the drone market to flourish in a responsible and safe manner.”

Chao will succeed Anthony Foxx, who has been open about his support of current technologies like UAVs and self-driving cars. Gretchen West, co-executive director of the Alliance, explains the importance of continuing Foxx’s embrace of innovation.

“We hope that [Elaine Chao] continues the work of Secretary Foxx in supporting and promoting the UAS industry to more rapidly integrate commercial drones into the National Airspace System to realize the vast benefits of drone technology,” West says.

The Office of Science and Technology Policy helps to advise the president on issues related to, well, science and technology.

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Office of Science and Technology Policy

Over the past few years, the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) has played an integral role in legitimizing drones. In 2016, the OSTP held the first White House workshop on drones and made suggestions on how to safely integrate UAS into the National Airspace System (NAS).

Congress established the OSTP in 1976. Its current director, also commonly referred to as the President’s Science Advisor, is John P. Holdren.

There has been little indication of whom the President-elect will select for this position. However, based on the appointment of James Carafano to Trump’s transition team, the American Institute of Physics (AIP) speculates that the OSTP may be eliminated entirely under a Trump Administration.

Carafano, who’s aiding Trump’s transition efforts for the Department of Homeland Security, has criticized the OSTP generally for being overly bureaucratic. A recent Heritage Foundation report, which cited Carafano as the lead author, described the OSTP as “a formal office whose purpose is unclear and whose capabilities are largely redundant.”

The AIP notes that eliminating the OSTP would require an act of Congress, which is under Republican control. While it is possible that Trump may eliminate the office entirely, it is unclear what this would gain the Trump Administration — especially after decades of progress.

The open letter penned by the Alliance emphasized the importance of the office, saying, “OSTP plays a particularly important role as the agency that carries the critical innovation banner across the federal government — including for commercial drones.”

Retired Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, in the position of National Security Advisor, may change how drones are used in the military.

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The Military

In October, the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College published a comprehensive report on the attitudes of both 2016 presidential candidates toward military drones.

“Trump has made few public comments related specifically to drones, though he has advocated for a significant expansion of the air campaign against ISIS — a campaign that currently relies largely on drones,” the report explains.

This assessment is based primarily on Trump’s November 2015 statement that he intended to “bomb the s--t out of” ISIS — there have been few other formal statements by Trump regarding his views on military drone use.

Graham Lanktree of the International Business Times speculates that Trump’s selection of retired Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn as National Security Advisor will lead to an increased use of military drones.

“Expect a ramp up in the use of drones to fight terrorism under President-elect Donald Trump,” Lanktree reported.

However, Flynn’s view on aerial drone strikes differs from Trump’s — Flynn believes that drone strikes aid in radicalization efforts from terrorist groups like ISIS. He would likely support the use of military drones for other purposes, such as aerial surveillance and intelligence gathering.

Additionally, according to the CSD report, Vice President-elect Mike Pence advocates for the use of drones to patrol the border — Trump’s position on immigration and securing the U.S.-Mexico border was one of his most aggressive campaign policies.

The FAA plays a vital role in creating guidelines and regulations for both commercial and recreational drone operators. 

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The Federal Aviation Administration

Anyone in the drone community knows, and likely has some strong feelings about, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The FAA is the regulatory heavyweight for all things drone. Most recently, it helped open up the commercial drone industry through the release of Part 107.

Joan Lowy reports for PBS that President-elect Trump is partial to the idea of privatizing airspace control. While this idea isn’t new, it is highly controversial. This year’s FAA reauthorization process included the proposed AIRR Act, which aimed to rescind oversight of the air traffic control system from the FAA and privatize it instead. The AIRR Act failed to make it through the House due primarily to the proposed air traffic control reforms.

In its letter to the administration, the DMA emphasized the importance of keeping air traffic control under the authority of the FAA.

“The FAA has sole jurisdiction over the national airspace and aviation safety, and we would urge you to maintain its authority to regulate the national airspace for unmanned aircraft systems,” the letter states.

Air traffic control, already a hurdle for the integration of commercial drones, will become an increasingly important and contentious issue as exponentially more drones vie for their place in the National Airspace System.

While these selections and potential stances indicate a direction for the future of the commercial drone industry, Trump has made no formal announcements or policies with drones in mind. And there are still many decisions yet to be made.

“Our members and our industry as a whole would be disappointed to see appointees that might stagnate the advancements of drone use and technology, which would likely stagnate the economic growth of the United States overall,” says West.
Featured image: Pixabay/Pexels