February 18, 2015
US draft rules on drones not seen as hugely beneficial to a burgeoning market
By the end of 2025 it is anticipated that the civil uses of drones will exceed military ones in financial terms, according to a report issued by IDTechEx. “The biggest market sub-sector will be small UAVs that are not toys or personal, with US$2bn in sales in 2025 generating over US$20bn in benefits in agriculture, border protection, parcel delivery, logistics such as warehousing, coastguard, customs, search and rescue, medical emergency, malaria research, mine detection, protection of rare species, movie production and so on,” says Dr Harrop, Chairman of IDTechEx.
As an example, recently Amazon underlined that they are heavily committed to package delivery to customers by using drones once they obtain the regulatory support needed. The biggest internet retailer in China, Alibaba, has already trialled drone deliveries there, Google has tested drone deliveries in Australia, and DHL have performed deliveries using unmanned aircraft to an island in Germany, this being the first authorized drone use in Europe.
However, in the United States, the long-awaited draft rules from the Federal Aviation Administration have now been released, and so far the impression is that a considerable amount of negotiating will be required before the likes of Amazon can see their dreams come true. While on the one hand some of the restrictions seem to make perfect sense, others seem overly restrictive. As such the FAA would need an unmanned aircraft pilot to obtain a special pilot certificate, avoid bystanders, and fly only during daytime. Flying speed is limited to 100 miles per hour (160 kph) and altitude to 500 feet (152 m) above ground. The rules also require pilots to remain in ‘line of sight’ of the drone they are operating, which is seen as a major restriction for areas such as inspection of electrical towers, pipelines and crops, though the FAA felt this problem could be solved through the use of spotters working together with the pilot.
Despite drones suddenly becoming the ‘in’ gadget, these rules have actually been 10 years in the making and still require public discussion before ratification can take place. “This rule does not deal with beyond line of sight, but does allow for the use of a visual observer to augment line of sight by the operator of the unmanned aircraft,” FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said, going on to say that the agency had attempted to be “flexible” in their approach to creating the rules. He also indicated that they had created a framework and that the rules would change as a result of communication with appropriate industries and technology developments.
As for the practical side, commercial drone operators would have to be at least 17 years old, pass an aeronautical knowledge test, and be vetted by the Transportation Security Administration. However there would be no requirement to go through the medical tests or flight hours needed by manned aircraft pilots. The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), lauded the draft, with Brian Wynne, the group’s President, calling it a “good first step in an evolutionary process.” However the privacy advocates were still concerned there were insufficient limits on when law enforcement agencies would be allowed to use drones for surveillance.