The US Department of Transportation is working on regulatory measures to allow the safe operation of drones, US Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao announced Thursday.

The new, three-year Drone Integration Pilot Program will pair public entities with partners in the drone industry to create ideas on how to safely integrate drones into US airspace, according to the announcement. The partnerships will have to operate under limits from the FAA.

An FAA federal register notice explained the timeframe for interested parties to apply. Applicants have 20 days from the notice’s posting to submit a notice of intent to complete a full application to the FAA–the first step in the process. Interested parties, including local, state, and tribal entities, have 35 days from the posting to request to be involved.

SEE: Drone policy template (Tech Pro Research)

Approved applicants will be able to deploy drones within 180 days. Chao labeled the program a key priority, saying the application, and later the deployment process, will move quickly. The DOT will select a minimum of five partnerships, according to a DOT press release.

“These partnerships will allow local communities to experiment with new technologies like package delivery, emergency drone inspections, and more, on terms that work for them and in ways that support a unified and safe airspace,” Chao told hundreds of drone operators and industry leaders at the announcement.

The DOT cited research by Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, saying drone usage can mean up to 100,000 new jobs. The program is designed to safely encourage innovation while giving governments more legal certainty regarding drone regulation. It gives tech companies a chance to develop and deploy new methods of using drones, helping them bring their tech to a larger stage. Other industries with the potential for immediate impact include photography, agriculture, and emergency management, according to the release.

If the pilot program is successful, businesses may have new ways to do things, especially when it comes to shipping or delivering services. The program could be the regulatory step necessary to turn drone shipping experiments into a serious logistics business. Companies such as UPS and Amazon have already been experimenting with shipping with drones.

The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers

  1. The DOT is launching a partnership program to pair public and private entities to develop new, safe ways to use drones.
  2. After submitting a letter of intent within the next 20 days, selected private sector applicants could begin deploying drone operations within 180 days.
  3. This could be the regulatory measure that paves the way for drone-based shipping and other drone-based products or services.