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The Senate Appropriations Committee approved the fiscal 2019 Transportation-HUD spending bill by a unanimous vote: but criticized the Department of Transportation for diverting Department funds to pay for the UAS Integration Pilot Program.

The Senate bill rejected many of the Trump Administration’s suggestions, including funding for many areas that the administration indicated should be subject to cuts or elimination.  The administration’s drone integration pilot program also came under scrutiny.

The UAS Integration Pilot Program (IPP) was announced by the Trump administration at the end of October 2017, and launched by Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao in November.  The program, which allows state, local and tribal governments to with members of the drone industry to trial drone applications like drone delivery or insect control in their communities, has been received enthusiastically by the drone industry.  The first 10 participants were announced last month, and projects are already underway.

The FAA has said that the program is an important step forward for drone integration into the national airspace (NAS).  The idea is that the IPP will allow operations not currently allowed under regulations: participating state, local and tribal governments will communicate with the FAA about the programs to inform future regulation.  The program is one of the first to give local governments a voice in drone regulation.

The Senate Appropriations Committee named the program in their report on the spending bill, however, saying that the Transportation Department had not consulted with the appropriations committee before starting the program.  In future, the report says that the Department will have to report on the program and costs before introducing any new partners to the program.

In addition, the report directed the FAA to “consider the important public interest role” of drones in news media, and to “immediately establish” procedures to all credentialed news agencies to use drones.

The report also urged the FAA to speed up development on an online, interactive training system for use as part of the electronic registration system for drones.

Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
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