Jeff Chiu / AP

President Trump on Wednesday directed the Transportation Department to launch a pilot program to make it easier to test and deploy drones in select cities across the country. The pilot program is intended to test different models for drones to be used — for delivering cargo or emergency supplies, for example — that can then be evaluated for more permanent deployments.

Why it matters: A growing number of companies such as Amazon, Alphabet, UPS and Intel, are interested in tapping drones for a wide range of uses, but current FAA rules prohibit commercial drones from flying outside of the operator's line of site, above people, or at night. Those restrictions severely limit the practical uses for drones, and companies have been pushing for more clarity and flexibility to operate them.

Scoring points: The announcement is also a way for Trump to win some points with major tech companies backing drones. When he hosted tech executives at the White House in June, Trump pledged to reduce barriers standing in the way of deploying emerging technologies. Today's action helps him deliver on that promise. The details of how the program will work, however, still have to be hammered out at the DoT and, more specifically, the FAA.

Local projects: The White House said state and local governments can work with companies to propose use cases for drones, working with the DoT to come up with parameters for safely deploying them in the airspace above cities. Doing so will help DoT and FAA develop a broader regulatory framework to allow for more complex low-altitude operations, and accelerate the approval process that currently requires special authorizations. This could help get drones used in agriculture, photography, delivery and infrastructure inspections get off the ground, the administration says.

"There's a lot of excitement among the private sector to reach out and find the communities where their great ideas can come to light, " a White House official said on a call with reporters.

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Deadly Hurricane Zeta slams U.S. Gulf Coast

A satellite image of Hurricane Zeta. Photo: National Hurricane Center/NOAA

Hurricane Zeta has killed at least one person after a 55-year-old man was "electrocuted by a downed power line" in Louisiana as the storm caused widespread power outages Wednesday night, per AP.

What's happening: Zeta made landfall south of New Orleans as a Category 2 hurricane earlier Wednesday before weakening to Category 1. But it was still "battering southeastern Louisiana and southern Mississippi with life-threatening storm surge, high winds, and heavy rain" late Wednesday, per the National Hurricane Center.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Politics: Biden ahead in Wisconsin, Michigan as cases surge in the Midwest.
  2. Health: Fauci says U.S. may not return to normal until 2022 — Trump's testing czar: Surge "is real" and not just caused by more tests Some coronavirus survivors have "autoantibodies."
  3. Business: Consumer confidence sinking Testing is a windfall.
  4. World: Europe faces "stronger and deadlier" wave France imposes lockdown Germany to close bars and restaurants for a month.
  5. Sports: Boston Marathon delayed MLB to investigate Dodgers player who joined celebration after positive COVID test.
2 hours ago - Health

Fauci says U.S. may not return to normal until 2022

Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Anthony Fauci, testifies during a September Senate hearing on COVID-19 in Washington, D.C. Photo: Graeme Jennings/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

NIAID director Anthony Fauci told the Journal of the American Medical Association on Wednesday he doesn't expect a COVID-19 vaccine to be ready until January 2021 or later.

What he's saying: Fauci said during the interview that the U.S. was in a "bad position" after failing to keep case numbers down post-summer. "We should have been way down in baseline and daily cases and we’re not," he said.