Trump’s Infrastructure Plan Could Boost Drone Ops


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Drone delivery systems being developed by Amazon.com Inc. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. could get a boost under the Trump administration’s infrastructure proposal.

Most drone operators rely on wireless connectivity, including Wi-Fi, to control simple flights of their unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) from the ground, according to Jackie McCarthy, assistant vice president of regulatory affairs for CTIA, a wireless carrier trade group.

The White House proposed making broadband expansion projects eligible for $50 billion in rural development grants, among other funding. That could support developing the connectivity needed for drones to tackle more sophisticated operations, such as inspecting railroads or pipelines and delivering packages, McCarthy said.

“Wireless networks and devices can play a really critical role for expanded drone operations because of their capacity, reliability, quality of service and security,” McCarthy told Bloomberg Law.

And as the FAA works on making rules to allow more commercial operators to fly beyond their visual line of sight, a more widespread broadband network would enable drones to be controlled even through remote areas, McCarthy said. 

The Trump plan also calls for accelerating the permitting process for broadband and other infrastructure projects, addressing an issue long cited by the wireless industry as an obstacle to buildout. 

The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, a drone and unmanned vehicle trade group, said in a statement it was encouraged the Trump proposal nodded to the technology infrastructure needed to support new unmanned systems. 

Expanded broadband could allow drone videographers, such as real estate marketers and inspectors, to better connect to video feeds, Gretchen West, a senior advisor at Hogan Lovells LLP and co-executive director of the Commercial Drone Alliance, told Bloomberg Law.

Even so, West cautioned that wireless may not necessarily be the way of the future for drones.

There is still debate, she said, over whether wireless networks will become the favored communication system for more sophisticated drones operations as drone and wireless technologies continue to develop and the FAA weighs security and safety requirements for unmanned systems communications.