President Trump has a plan to make it much easier to fly commercial drones across the US. He has a vision for a country with a strong, fluid drone network and drone-based economy. Current FAA laws and regulations mean that this is a long way off.
President Trump’s solution to the current situation is the new Unmanned Aircraft System Integration Pilot Program. This could shake up aviation and help drone operators and businesses across the nation. This new development will thrill some people, others less so.
What does it all mean for drone operators, developers, and haters over the coming years?
Why has President Trump announced this new program for drone laws and applications?
President Trump released a Presidential Memorandum for the Secretary of Transportation on October 25th. This document outlines all the guidelines and implications of this new program. It begins with an insight into the reasons for its creation.
UAS Integration Pilot Program
Trump claims that drones mean “novel, low-cost capabilities” that are applicable in public and private applications. The statement also mentions the chance to “enhance the safety of the American public, increase the efficiency and productivity of American industry, and create tens of thousands of new American jobs.”
There are three key points here:
- job creation and economic benefits
- improvements to American industry to boost the status of the US
- public safety and security
These points are interesting because they highlight the priorities with this new drones venture. Industry and economic prospects are the main focus here. There is the hope that companies can improve profits, develop brands and improve tech with drone systems. There is also the chance to build and supply the drones themselves. This is where many of those new jobs could occur. As for public safety, this implies links to homeland security and surveillance.
(source: Aero-News Network)
Who Will Be Happy About This New Proposition?
There are sure to be plenty of drone lovers and commercial operators jumping for joy at this news. But, who stands to benefit from any relaxation of drone laws or new opportunities. There will be many drone operators a little hope that they can benefit here. The big four include
- commercial operators currently restricted by the FAA
- companies planning drone-based delivery services
- those in industrial sectors that may benefit further.
- emergency services already benefiting from drone applications
There are lots of people that either own or wish to own, a license for commercial drone flight. These licenses come with rules and restrictions that can limit the potential of the venture. For example, many film-makers want to create groundbreaking footage of locations and events. They can only fly to a certain height, in certain light levels, and can’t go above crowds. New rules and regulations for commercial use may relax current limitations, opening doors for many drone enthusiasts.
Aspiring Delivery Companies:
This is one of the main talking points for new drone laws in the US. There are many companies with their eye on drone-based delivery services. Amazon has mentioned it for a while now, with the hope of speedier direct package transfers. This could help with same-day deliveries for small packages. Then all the food outlets see drones as the best replacement for delivery boys. 7-Eleven is one such company to express their interest. Then all those big brand pizza makers would use drone service as a way to compete on delivery times.
The focus of this new approach largely rests with the commercial side and an opportunity for big business. However, there is also the opportunity to help those in industrial sectors. Drones are important tools in many industries, from mining and infrastructure to electricity boards and surveying.
Operators use these tools over vast areas to determine new areas of development and the safety of vital equipment. Is there any way that the Unmanned Aircraft System Integration Pilot Program could also help here?
Then there are all those drones used in emergency applications, such as fire, ambulance and search, and rescue. Where possible, and safe, operators here need the freedom to roam and operate in a dangerous situation. This often means remote locations, tight spaces or around people.
Again, this Unmanned Aircraft System Integration Pilot Program might prove beneficial here. There are already great examples of developers and services benefiting from drone use. This was clear with the use of drones in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Elsewhere, Flirtey has new tech that allows the drone to deliver first aid and defibrillators in disaster zones. These life-saving operations need as much help as possible.
Who Might Be Unhappy with this New Program?
Then there are those less than thrilled about any plan to change drone laws. Some in the drones industry are more than happy with the safety rules and regulations in place at the moment. Others would like to see stronger laws to protect airspace, property, and privacy. Those possibly concerned by this venture include
- the FAA monitoring drone use
- Airports and aviation officials
- private citizens fearful of drones
It is the job of the FAA to regulate the skies in a manner that works for everyone. They need to ensure the safety of users and aircraft, as well as clarity of rules. In other words, there can’t be a free-for-all situation in the skies.
The current situation is perhaps too strict for Trump and those delivery service providers. The FAA would argue that it serves a purpose. All those that want to operate a drone must pass an exam. Even then, there are strict rules and limitations on the flight. For example, these drones cannot fly beyond the operator’s line of sight, go too near people or operate at night without authorization. This new Unmanned Aircraft System Integration Pilot Program. Could disrupt things a little.
Airports and aviation officials:
A relaxation of the laws and changes to operation regulations would also affect airports. Drones are a nightmare for air traffic control. They encroach upon airspace and threaten flights, and then dash away as though nothing happened. This is a growing problem over in the UK, where major airports see flights grounded due to nearby drone activity. These delays are the best case consequence.
What would happen if a landing airliner sucked a drone into the engine? There are also questions about counter-UAS security to keep drones away from these restricted areas.
Private citizens and property owners:
Then there are all those that dislike drones and don’t want them near their property or families. There is a big concern about privacy with commercial and personal drone use. What can operators see as they fly over homes and gardens? Are images and data shared without the occupier’s knowledge? Any delivery drone will have to travel to other people and properties to reach its destination.
Then there is the risk of damage to property if the drone malfunctions or crashes. What is the responsibility of the homeowner if a drone dies on the back lawn? There are a lot of unanswered questions, which is why this new scheme will take some time.
What is the Department of Transportation Doing?
President Trump sent his Presidential Memorandum to the Department of Transportation. It is now down to the Secretary to set the ball in motion. This means:
- gathering ideas on the subject
- talking to all the major stakeholders
- narrowing down the best five ideas for developments
- implementing these test projects
- creating new laws on the evidence of the projects
The first step with the new Unmanned Aircraft System Integration Pilot Program is to gain ideas from those with insight. This means developers, operators, and officials with experience in drone flight and laws. They also want to take the time to talk with a range of target audiences for a broad set of opinions. This means city authorities, pilots, operators and also private citizens.
There is also a need to speak to state, local and tribal authorities on the issue. With time, the best five solutions will move forward. The aim is that these will be the biggest crowd-pleasers with the best outcomes.
There is the sense that President Trump doesn’t want to lag behind other countries on drone use.
Trump wants to ‘Make America Great Again,’ which often means ensuring it does better than other nations to stay on top. The industry is a clear focus on economic and technology development, and drones play into this pretty well. If other countries can create their commercial drone networks, why can’t America?
The US has a desire to be the best, the fastest, the smartest and the most developed – without consideration of the full implications. The problem is that there is more to this issue than simply signing some laws and allowing more drones in the air. The concerns expressed above show that this isn’t going to be straightforward.
A great example of this difference between nations comes from Rwanda.
There are a few African nations with new drone networks, undoubtedly envied by Trump. Rwanda was the first, with a partnership with a Silicon Valley start-up called Zipline. This network is for emergency aid, rather than a commercial benefit. The drones help to deliver emergency supplies of blood to remote areas when roads are impassible.
This is an impressive, admirable use of a drone network, but it is hard to compare Rwanda’s situation to that of the US. The nature of the program is just the start. There is also the fact that it is much easier to manage a drone network in these African air spaces. The same is true for the European nations, like Switzerland, keen on their developments. American airspace is much busier, complex and difficult to negotiate. The FAA already handles more than 40,000 flights a day. Urban air spaces are chaotic.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t improvements to make with the current FAA drone laws.
There are issues already with the FAA and current drone laws. It is difficult to keep everyone happy, and within the law, as they develop their tech and venture. The FAA themselves are just as guilty of trying to please everyone and creating a few great areas. For example, there is a waiver system in place where operators can essentially apply to break the rules. This could have been for exceptional cases. They granted around 1,300 of these waivers. This covers those that want permission to fly and night, over people or to break another clause.
On top of that, they also gave a permanent exemption to CNN. This means that they are constantly allowed to fly over crowds to create drone-based news footage. No other outlet has this right. This flexibility shows the need for improvements to drone regulations, which this Unmanned Aircraft System Integration Pilot Program could provide. Some areas need strengthening.
This trial period will be significant for all involved in the drone industry.
It will be interesting to see how these Unmanned Aircraft System Integration Pilot Program trials and recommendations develop. There is the risk that they will alter the rules to favor commercial businesses and revenue while risking safety. The “line of sight” rule is a great example.
Drones are only truly safe when visible. Operators need to know precisely where they are for safe operation and landing. This prevents crashes or the craft getting too close to people, property or planes. How can this continue with long distance delivery services? Even so, the administration is sure to play up the safety angle and insist that this is in the best interest of public safety.
The results of this proposal won’t be clear for years. There are quite a few hoops to jump through with the consultations, plans, and test runs. There is also the likelihood that the consultations won’t appease everyone. But, there is potential in this Unmanned Aircraft System Integration Pilot Program for many stakeholders. This is especially true for those commercial enterprises. In a few years, the US might get those drone-based package deliveries after all.