As FTI continues to hone in on the world of drone-related business and policy, we’ve cherry picked some interesting snapshots from the previous week with our thoughts on their implications.
FTI’s TMT team routinely analyzes and evaluates conversation and events in the nascent dronespace, posting content we hope will prove to be a valuable resource on UAV information that connect the dots between technology, policy and business.
For a start, we continue to see a variety of potential stakeholders looking to benefit from drone technology.
We keep track of the most interesting developments in regulation as stand-alone think-pieces like; Single European Sky Policy to include drones with regulation pending, EU Looking to Invest in Drone Technology Research, and EU Committee Discusses Drone Privacy and Security, as well as in regular and timely news snapshots like our recent posts on US/EU regulatory activity and regional US regulatory activity. Below you can find our latest update and observations.
CORPORATE | Insurance giant, Allstate Corp. has said the latest FAA decisions have now cleared the way for the insurer to continue research into the use of drones. This means Allstate now joins a series of other insurers testing unmanned aircraft as a way to inspect insurance claims.
Decisions that are being made now in every city, municipality, state and in Washington, DC will have an impact on a business’ ability to engage in DRBA for years to come. Many of those decisions will be reached despite the lack of understanding and technical knowledge of drones and their benefits to everyday life.
FTI believes that for any company to benefit from legitimate stakeholder confidence in UAS technology, the enterprise must invest not only in the technology itself, but also in judicious use of digital content and communications to help manage perception across political, legal and media fronts.
That said, Allstate deserves credit as an innovator, having embraced the promise of DRBA early on.
CORPORATE | A coalition of 15 leading news media companies, including NOLA.com and The Times-Picayune, started an FAA sanctioned program on June 17, to put drones in the hands of journalists for testing. The news media coalition is comprised of the following companies: American Broadcasting Companies, Inc.; Advance Publications, Inc.; A. H. Belo Corporation; The Associated Press; Capitol Broadcasting Co.; The E.W. Scripps Company; Fusion; Gannett Co., Inc.; Getty Images (US), Inc.; NBC Universal; The New York Times Company; Sinclair Broadcast Group, Inc.; Thomson Reuters (Markets), LLC; Univision; and The Washington Post.
We note with interest that though various industry coalitions and even a number of conferences centered on drone-related business activities (DRBA) have sprung up recently, few if any individual companies have taken the obvious steps towards translating stakeholder demand for more information about the benefits of drones into their communications and policy efforts. Perhaps now that they will be getting individual, hands on testing from journalists we can expect to see more of an public and industry dialogue on the subject.
TRAINING/ACADEMIA | Auburn University is positioned to become a key training center for commercial operators of unmanned aircraft as it launches the nation’s first FAA-authorized flight school for those piloting the aerial systems.
Recent developments on drone technology at the congressional level, have also been ramping up. It’s important to highlight, however, that while the US continues to propose various legislation and regulation on the subject of drones, Europe, once lagging in the space, is rapidly closing the gap with the European Aviation Safety industry (EASA) rapidly encouraging and creating new categories, as well as rules and regulations to help the market reach its greatest potential.
Also important to note is that regardless of regulatory shifts, drones will likely become, within a few years, one of the most distinctive, visible and ubiquitous pieces of business-technology hardware.
REGULATION | On June 18, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) introduced a bill that would require the FAA to issue two sets of drone regulations, one for recreational flights, the other for manufacturing requirements. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) cosponsored the bill. The first rule would set a maximum flight altitude, specifications on where and when the drones can be flown and weather restrictions. The second rule would keep manufacturers from making drones that work beyond a specified altitude and require technology that would keep them away from protected airspace such as airports. Regulations would also require that drones be equipped to land on their own at a specified location if communication is lost between device and operator. In response to a letter from Sen. Feinstein, the FAA released data on more than 190 incidents where pilots sighted drones over a nine-month period, including more than two-dozen near mid-air collisions.
CORPORATE REGULATION | On June 17, The U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held a hearing on drones in commerce, which revealed several key present issues in the current state of the commercial unmanned aircraft systems industry. Included is a breakdown of takeaway points from the hearing. Click here to for a full the recap of the hearing.
PRIVACY REGULATION | On June 17, Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Dean Heller (R-NV) introduced a bill that would require the federal government to obtain a warrant before conducting surveillance on Americans via drones and other aerial technology. The bill would also prohibit the government from identifying people who incidentally show up in warranted aerial surveillance and soliciting private companies to conduct the surveillance banned under the bill.
FTI believes the issue of privacy and security pertaining to drones to be a critical one of national importance. Indeed, in Europe, public debate of the issues has already added value by raising awareness of privacy implications, leading to more support and an increase in compliance with whatever regulations do eventually get drafted up. The more communication on the subject is opened up to the public, the better (and faster) the space can develop.
Overall, we continue to see a widening delta between business opportunity and business risk management – one we believe we can help clients narrow or close altogether. Yes, there is uncertainty in the space, but there is also as much, if not more, value.
Commercial UAV use is at its very inception, and the path ahead is still being forged as much by small-and-medium-sized businesses as by large, well-capitalized companies with infrastructure and a conservative approach to risks. The current level-playing field in that regard is as much of an opportunity as it is a challenge, and we therefore advise our clients to help us manage their interests accordingly.
The more we read about commercial drones, the more we see avoidable problems, manageable by companies of all sizes.