Drones continue to entice and intrigue not only individual hobbyists, but legitimate businesses and industries too. As more and more look to drones as a technological business advantage, FTI continues to follow the space and check in on policy. Today, we take a look at some interesting snapshots from the past week.
We continue to see a variety of potential stakeholders looking to benefit from drone technology:
CONFERENCES | On September 30, BZ Media LLC announced the success of its Women in Drones Luncheon, a special networking event at InterDrone(TM) The International Drone Conference & Exposition held on September 10 at The Rio in Las Vegas. The event brought together more than 50 leading women in the commercial drone industry to discuss challenges and triumphs faced by women in the predominantly male industry.
INDUSTRY | In September, Finland tried out drones in a new capacity – as a postman. The Finnish postal system, Posti, ran a pilot to deliver packages from Helsinki to Suomenlinna Island, which is home to about 900 permanent residents and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, making it a popular destination for tourists. The flight distance between the Helsinki harbor and the island is roughly 4 kilometers; to date, the mail has been delivered by boat.
DEFENSE | Aeronautics Defense Systems’ Dominator XP unmanned air vehicle has completed a successful first series of flights in Mexico. Based on Diamond Aircraft’s DA42 general aviation aircraft, the medium-altitude, long-endurance surveillance system was sold to the Mexican government via local marketing company Balam Security.
REGULATION | The Small UAV Coalition, which is pressing for relaxed regulations for the use of commercial drones, hired its first outside lobbyist the week of Sept. 28. The trade group, which counts members such as Google X and Amazon Prime Air, brought on lobbyist Robert Epplin, who recently started his own firm after splitting with the group founded by former House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt, Gephardt Government Affairs. The group retained Epplin Strategic Planning to influence the federal lawmakers on “transportation and appropriations issues,” according to newly filed lobbying disclosures.
INDUSTRY | The Delmarva Daily Times reported that NASA predicts that UAV traffic at the Wallops Flight Facility “could increase up to 10-fold” once a new airstrip dedicated to such flights opens. The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International “recently put the total economic impact of drones during the first three years they were integrated into the national airspace in the United States at more than $13.6 billion, with more than 70,000 jobs created.”
There have been recent developments with drone technology at the state level:
REGULATION | In Minnesota, Forest Lake City Council members discussed regulating drones in the city during their Sept. 21 work session. City Administrator Aaron Parrish said the topic was brought up because some council members had asked him about it. Though some U.S. municipalities are regulating the use of drones, which are remotely controlled unmanned aircraft of any size, there aren’t many Minnesota cities that have taken any action. Parrish presented a sample ordinance from St. Bonifacius that bans all drone use in city limits by private residents or by law enforcement, unless the entity using the drone has a warrant or is using the drone to save someone who is currently in danger.
LEGISLATION | State Rep. Raymond Gallison, Jr., (D-RI), plans to reintroduce legislation to regulate drones in November, according to a Sept. 18 General Assembly press release. The bill would protect the privacy and safety of the general public by requiring aircraft to be registered with the Department of Public Safety. Behaviors made illegal by the bill — such as capturing or transmitting images from an occupied building — would result in a penalty of up to three years in prison in addition to or instead of a fine of up to $5,000.
LEGISLATION | The increasing presence of drones may result in state legislation to reduce use of the unmanned aerial vehicles. In other parts of the country, pilots have been flying the devices over corrections facilities. State Sen. John Proos of St. Joseph wants to make sure there are no fly-overs at prisons in Michigan. The State Senator’s bills would make it a four-year felony for anyone caught operating a drone within 1,000 feet of a lockup in this state. The package is now before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
There have been recent developments with drone technology at the federal level:
SCIENCE/RESEARCH | A proposal to use drones to study severe storms has received a boost from a $1.9 million federal grant to refine the aircraft and some of the instruments they carry. University of Colorado (CU) researcher Eric Frew said Sept. 30 that the National Science Foundation grant will allow CU and four other schools to develop guidance systems that maximize the drones’ flight time. The grant will also help develop some of the instruments the drones would carry.
Recent developments within the FAA regarding the use of drones:
SAFETY | Denver International Airport and the FAA are partnering to raise awareness about safe unmanned aircraft operations. The agencies teamed up on a Public Service Announcement (PSA) that will run on the video towers in the airport’s main terminal. The PSA uses the “No Drone Zone” slogan to drive home the point that flying an unmanned aircraft near a manned aircraft is illegal and dangerous. It refers viewers to the FAA’s unmanned aircraft website and to the knowbeforeyoufly.org website for further information and guidance on flying unmanned aircraft safely and responsibly.
LEGISLATION | A three-year-old legislative deadline for integrating unmanned aerial systems (UAS) into U.S. commercial airspace passed without being met Sept. 30. The deadline to develop a framework to integrate drones and control systems into the National Airspace System (NAS) was set by Congress in a 2012 aviation funding bill. However, the FAA has indicated that it would most likely push past the deadline. A June 2014 Department of Transportation Inspector General report stated the agency would miss the 2015 mark because of “significant technological barriers,” including detection and standardized air traffic procedures and other issues.
COMMERCE | With drones becoming cheaper and Christmas right around the corner, an FAA official said Sept. 28 that the agency plans to meet with Wal-Mart managers to educate them about drone dangers. “The talking point is that there’ll be a million drones under Christmas trees,” said Rich Swayze, an assistant administrator for the FAA, at an ‘Airlines for America’ event this afternoon. Swayze said that typically Wal-Mart has an annual meeting of its general managers before the Christmas season hits, and that FAA plans to send someone to the meeting “to talk to those people so that they can educate people that are buying these devices.”
SPORTS | According to the Associated Press, the FAA has granted the NFL the ability to use drones on a limited basis to record practice footage. The use of drones at games will remain prohibited, but teams and NFL Films will be allowed to use the unmanned aerial technology to provide a unique perspective if local, state and federal guidelines clear them to do so.
EYE IN THE SKY | WPXI-TV Channel 11 is the first station in the Pittsburgh market to get approval to fly a drone, which will be used to enhance news coverage. A team spent more than a year learning about drone restrictions before the FAA gave Channel 11 the OK. The drone, which will have the capability to fly in places that are inaccessible to Chopper 11, will be used to cover stories including breaking news and severe weather.
SAFETY | The FAA has opened an investigation after a DJI Inspire 1 crashed and injured a nearly one-year-old girl in Pasadena, California in early September. The crash of the 6.4 pound drone took place during a September 12 movie screening of The Princess Bride at City Hall, according to the Pasadena Star News. The child sustained a quarter-inch cut on her head and a bump on the forehead—she was seen at Huntington Memorial Hospital and released.
DATA | In a report issued the week of Sept. 20, the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) breaks down data surrounding the first 1,000 drone permits by state, offering a far more granular view of the U.S. commercial drone industry than we’ve seen to date. Their report found that commercial operators now fly in 49 states, using vehicles manufactured in 22 states. An overwhelming 85% of companies holding Section 333 exemptions are small businesses. Applications span a variety of industries, but are largely tied to aerial data gathering. However the states with the most companies operating commercial drones aren’t just the biggest states, but territories with major aerospace and aviation industry hubs, like California, Texas, and Florida.