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An Alphabet executive now leads an influential U.S. drone policy association

Laura Ponto is the new chairman of the board of the Commercial Drone Alliance.

Project Wing

Laura Ponto is the new chairman of the board of the Commercial Drone Alliance, a leading industry association that advocates for U.S. drone policy. Ponto is currently the head of public policy at Project Wing, the drone project under Alphabet’s moonshot lab, X.

Ponto joined X in March. Previously she served for more than 10 years as a senior attorney at the Federal Aviation Administration, helping to craft drone policies for part of that time. Before the FAA, Ponto also held positions at the Department of Justice, the Senate and the Department of Transportation, according to her LinkedIn profile.

Ponto joins the board of the CDA at a time of regulatory uncertainty for the industry.

Last month, a federal court ruled that the FAA’s drone registration requirement for non-commercial drones wasn’t legal. The Trump administration last month also shared its own policy proposal for drones flying in U.S. airspace. If passed, it would permit the federal government to hack, destroy, track or commandeer drones without prior consent to evaluate if the aircraft pose a security threat to areas that receive special government protection. Trump also announced last week plans to privatize air traffic control, a move that could expedite when drone delivery in the U.S. actually comes to fruition.

Ponto’s new position as chairman signals that Alphabet is dedicated to the future of drone regulation, despite the fact that Project Wing itself hasn’t shared its business plan.

The Wall Street Journal reported in December that Wing’s plan is to create an online retail center called Wing Marketplace, where orders will be delivered by drones on demand for a $6 fee. Former employees said the company met with Whole Foods, Domino’s and other restaurants.

But unlike Amazon, which has an obvious use for delivery drones — shipping the millions of orders the online retail giant processes a day — Alphabet’s drone program doesn’t. So far, Project Wing has been trying to partner with other companies to test drone delivery solutions, like Chipotle, as well as with Starbucks, but as Bloomberg reported, the coffee company pulled out in November 2016.

For Wing to take off, it will probably need to cement and retain more retail partnerships. It will also need more clarity around federal drone regulations that permit flying beyond an operator’s line of sight and flying over populated areas, both of which are restricted under current FAA rules.

Project Wing is a member of two other unmanned aircraft trade associations: The Small UAV Coalition and AUVSI.

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