Now that you have opened up the box Santa left you and saw the shiny new drone, what will you do with it? Drones or as they are officially known, Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UASs) have flooded the U.S. like a tsunami. Reports indicate tens of thousands of drones are being sold each month. So besides the initial excitement of being an armchair pilot, what should you do if you live near National Airport, Dulles or any other airport you may or may not know exists near you? If you’re the Federal or local government do you regulate these revolutionary flying machines and if you do, how would you enforce the rules?
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is a regulatory agency whose focus is on safety. Their ability to enforce rules is limited to the number of folks who can do the work. The question then is how do you protect piloted aircraft and their passengers from the many drones that will be flying near busy airports?
Yet another aspect of the FAA is to encourage and develop civil aviation, including new technology. This new age of aviation makes it possible for commercial drones to be profitable businesses and who doesn’t want to encourage that. Ultimately, the FAA will keep the public safe. So as a Federal employee how can you safely introduce new technology, regulate it, encourage it, without harming our citizens’ all the while boosting commerce?
What are the different types of UAS operations?
There are three types of unmanned aircraft system operations: Civil, Public and Model Aircraft.
Technical descriptions of these types is available on the FAA.gov website but if you look at them you can immediately see how regulation and certification centric they are with a requirement on model aircraft that they do not interfere with manned aircraft, stay below 400 feet and remain within the operators eyesight at all times.
What rules exists today?
Many incidents have already occurred in the National Airspace System (NAS) and the FAA has recently published its interpretation on rules for model aircraft. These rules are for hobbyists and not intended for commercial activities. Shortly, draft proposals for rules pertaining to commercial drones will be available for comment with a Congressional mandate for institution in September 2015. The expectation is that these will be too restrictive and prohibitive to the drone industry. “Regulatory capture” is the term used to describe this.
What are other countries doing?
Meanwhile, France is allowing farmers to use drones to oversee their crops and this has resulted in boosting revenues. The Germans are delivering drugs to remote locations. Amazon is testing their system in Canada and Google is allowed to experiment in Australian airspace. The newsmagazine, The Economist, argues concerning U.S. rules in a December 6, 2014 article that “Overly protective regulation also leads to less safe skies. The ban is widely ignored and the new rules will probably be too. Unlicensed flights will be uncharted, the craft unidentified and their operators uninsured.” So what would you do?
Where does the industry and government go next?
Many of you reading this hold positions in which similar decisions and responsibilities lay within our job titles. You may be assigned a panel or committee or might possibly have the opportunity to be the one making a positive decision and not a reactionary one. Over restricting a new industry will find people skirting the rules for fun or profit, so we must find a way to introduce and bolster a new technology without harming the public. One argument is that you can accelerate and promote change by education and inventive imagination. Throw onto a white board all of the potential ideas that will not only be safe, but will accelerate the ‘thing’, in this case, the UAS industry. Encourage the craziest concepts, knowing that they all won’t stick, but will bring to the surface the best path to meet the required goal.
Concerning the example above, wouldn’t it be interesting to recognize UASs need to be considered a new aviation technology and with that, all new rules. This will create a safer industry. Consider the people who fly these are not pilots but operators. Why should certifications and authorizations be the same as pilots and why should they be treated that way? A farmer probably should know how to safely stay away from piloted aircraft but doesn’t mean they need to be a trained pilot. I’m looking forward to the day Amazon drops off diapers at my doorstep, before I need them to drop off Depends.
Michael Hannigan is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.