Trump signs directive intended to increase drones use

There could be more drones flying around in the US as a result of a Trump administration test programme to increase government and commercial use of the unmanned aircraft.

President Donald Trump yesterday signed a directive intended to increase the number and complexity of drone flights. The presidential memo would allow exemptions from current safety rules and enable communities to move ahead with testing of drone operations.

States, communities and tribes selected to participate would devise their own trial programmes partnering with government and industry drone users. Though the administration anticipates approving at least five applications, the number of communities that can join is not limited.

Each programme would be reviewed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which would grant waivers, if necessary, to rules currently restricting drone operations. According to commentators, these could include flights over people, nighttime flights and flights beyond the line of sight of the drone operator.

The test zones are expected to be made ready in about a year. The programme would then continue for three more years.

According to transportation secretary Elaine Chao, the programme is intended ''to foster technological innovation that will be a catalyst for ideas that have the potential to change our day-to-day lives.''

The government will have access to the data generated in the trials, which could be used in conjunction with NASA to further develop an air traffic control system for drones.

The US government has tried to carefully regulate drone operation so far. Companies and individuals can fly drones for commercial purposes in the US under heavy restrictions. Pilots need to obtain a certification, and can only fly during the daytime, keeping the drone within line of sight at all times. There also limits to the altitudes to drone flights of under 400 feet. Drones are also not allowed to be flown over crowds.