DOT Moves To Monetize Drones

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It’s a small step, but the Transportation Department on Monday took what could be the first move toward allowing the widespread commercial use of drones to transport cargo, and eventually, passengers as well. The DOT—the parent of the FAA—published a “notification of procedures” (PDF) on Monday stating that it will provide “certificate or exemption authority” to companies proposing to operate drones to engage in air transportation, including the delivery of goods for compensation. The FAA also verified to AVweb that the statement applies to the transport of passengers in “autonomous or semi-autonomous flying taxis” as well as cargo. The FAA also told AVweb the agency’s goal is to encourage industry to move forward and develop their ideas without being encumbered by the slow pace of FAA rulemaking, while emphasizing that “both the FAA and industry will not compromise on safety.”

The FAA will retain “safety authority” over all operations, the DOT said in its notification. “Companies proposing to operate UAS to engage in air transportation, including the delivery of goods for compensation, must first obtain certificate or exemption authority from the Department prior to engaging in the air transportation,” the DOT said. “The Department intends to use its existing regulatory procedures for processing UAS operators’ requests for economic authority.” Amazon and Google already are developing drones with the aim to deliver products directly to customers, and multiple companies, including Boeing and Airbus, are working on concepts for passenger drones.

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