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Tech giants are not always on the same page with President Donald Trump. But they might have found some common ground — or perhaps should we say common airspace — when it comes to drones.

President Trump today announced a new initiative to make “American aviation great again” through a series of initiatives to boost the usage and integration of unmanned aircraft systems with the national airspace system. The move could be a huge boon for companies such as Amazon and Google, which have hit regulatory headwinds in the past around their efforts to implement technologies that would allow for drone deliveries.

Amazon has tested some of its drone delivery efforts in England, in part due to the friendly regulatory environment. “We’re getting really good cooperation,” Amazon founder Jeff Bezos said in Seattle last year.

Bezos famously announced its drone delivery program in an episode of 60 Minutes nearly four years ago.

Drone landing in England
Amazon’s delivery drone comes in for a landing over an English field near Cambridge. (Amazon via YouTube)

“The hard part here is putting in all the redundancy, all the reliability, all the systems you need to say, ‘Look, this thing can’t land on somebody’s head while they’re walking around their neighborhood,” said Bezos, predicting at the time it could take four to five years for the program to take flight in the U.S.

Now, Trump — a frequent critic of Amazon and Bezos — may be opening doors to Amazon and others to spark drone delivery, among other UAV activities.

“Our Nation will move faster, fly higher, and soar proudly toward the next great chapter of American aviation,” said President Trump in a statement issued today.

One key component of the proposal set forth by President Trump’s administration is the ability to allow drones to fly beyond visual line of sight, which is important for drone operators that want to fly drones to residences or businesses to deliver goods from warehouses that might be miles away.

Amazon appears to like the new steps.

“Amazon supports the administration’s efforts to create a pilot program aimed at keeping America at the forefront of aviation and drone innovation,” Gur Kimchi, vice president of Amazon Prime Air, said in a statement provided to Bloomberg News.

Here’s the full press release that the White House issued today:

BRINGING AMERICAN AVIATION INTO THE 21ST CENTURY: President Donald J. Trump and his Administration are creating a new drone Integration Pilot Program that will accelerate drone integration into the national airspace system.

• With the increase in the number of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), commonly called drones, America’s aviation pioneers need a regulatory framework that encourages innovation while ensuring airspace safety.

• America’s regulatory framework for aviation is outdated, limiting the integration of drones into the national airspace system and driving American technology companies to seek commercial testing and deployment opportunities overseas.

• Under this pilot program, the Department of Transportation (DOT) will enter into agreements with State, local, and tribal governments to establish innovation zones for testing complex UAS operations and to attempt different models for integrating drones into local airspace.

o Using existing Federal authorities, the program will accelerate testing of currently restricted UAS operations – such as beyond-visual-line-of-sight flights and flights over people.

o This program will open the skies for the delivery of life-saving medicines and commercial packages, inspections of critical infrastructure, support for emergency management operations, and surveys of crops for precision agriculture applications.

o The pilot program will also allow testing of new UAS traffic management systems and detection and tracking capabilities, which are needed to fully integrate UAS operations into the national airspace system.

o The pilot program will increase the number and complexity of UAS operations across the Nation, and will help in the development of a future national aviation regulatory framework that can fuel American leadership in unmanned aviation.

o Jurisdictions eager to participate in the program are strongly encouraged to work closely with industry partners and technical experts to draft proposals for participation.

THE NEXT GENERATION OF AMERICAN AERONAUTICS: Drones are a critical, fast-growing part of American aviation, increasing efficiency, productivity, and jobs.

• UAS, commonly called drones, present opportunities to enhance the safety of the American public, increase the efficiency and productivity of American industry, and create tens of thousands of new American jobs.

• The dramatic increase in UAS deployment in the United States is unprecedented.

o Over one million UAS owners have registered with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

o The number of commercial UAS are projected to increase fivefold by 2021.

• The FAA UAS Integration Office is coordinating Federal efforts to integrate UAS into the national airspace system

• Through its “Know Before You Fly” educational campaign, the FAA has developed relationships with almost 150 partners, including drone manufacturers, law enforcement agencies, retailers, labor organizations, and institutions of higher education.

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