The relatively new technology of modern Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) inherently offers potentially great benefits to myriad facets of the U.S. economy. However, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the lead federal agency responsible for policy, regulation, and oversight of UAS technology and integration outside the military, has been working this issue since the mid- 2000′s—with little or nothing to show for its efforts.
The delays, lack of viable action, and “strict unnecessary limitations the FAA mandates” are having, and will continue to have, will negatively impact UAS businesses, UAS professionals, and the economy as a whole.
UAS applications in agribusiness alone could save farmers and growers millions of dollars annually if they could apply UAS water and pest technologies that are already available. Locating precious and rare earth metals and other natural resources using UAS technology would not only economically benefit the mining and energy industries, but pinpointed drilling, excavations, and locations for infrastructure would save wild lands and wildlife as well.
And while the extensive financial impact is of great import, it pales in comparison to the effect the FAA’s folly is having on public safety and disaster relief initiatives.
If the UAS community were allowed to germinate and grow safe, effective, innovative, and entrepreneurial UAS/public safety technologies, lives could be saved and property reclaimed and protected. Yet the actions of the FAA are stifling the capabilities of law enforcement, firefighters, and emergency medical personnel.
There are a number of significant concerns regarding the UAS roadmap recently released by the FAA, specifically regarding the timeline for regular access to the National Airspace System (NAS) and current procedures. According to Patrick Egan, author of “Are You Tired of Hearing Excuses From The FAA?” and Host and Executive Producer of the sUAS News Podcast Series, “The small UAS ARC [Advisory and Rulemaking Committees – FAA] put out their recommendations on April 1, 2009, yet we still haven’t seen the NPRM [Notice of proposed rulemaking]. The NPRM was to be released for public comment almost two years ago.
Sadly, it appears that we will miss the December 2013 NPRM timeline we were told about this spring/summer.” He went on to say “…recommendations for the NPRM are disheartening as there is no small business stakeholder representation in, on, or around that committee.”
It appears the committee and the FAA as a body lack representation from anyone with any significant UAS experience. This is a real tragedy because small businesses potentially have the most to lose financially.
Egan stated, “References made to ‘develop standards’ or ‘facilitate the development of standards’ for pilot certification and aircraft certification are ambiguous and disheartening for those of us safety-minded stakeholders and end-users trying to build a legal business plan.” The overall effect of the FAA’s lack of adequate response and action has had a chilling effect on the UAS industry in the United States.
Amazingly, this lack of action is taking place at a time of a huge economic downturn. Also, it is not affording an industry which has the opportunity to increase employment and productivity the chance to safely and effectively do so. Egan continued, “Even more disconcerting are the Class 2 medical requirements for operators of smaller UASs and the [significant] standoff distances from airports. All of this, coupled with a very limited flight envelope [and] the lack of a public algorithm for ADS-B” [a replacement/supplement to traditional radar-based aircraft surveillance] will have the effect that the domestic UAS industry will be stillborn.”
Egan went on to suggest the FAA examine “the pragmatic work done by some of the European countries like the United Kingdom…,” and seek input from this nation’s stakeholders who have significant UAS experience in safe and effective UAS operations. Rather than allowing bureaucracy and lack of expertise to stifle progress, the FAA should incorporate experienced UAS companies and their experts into the process, thereby helping create comprehensive capabilities to approach and solve issues.
Small business owner Brian Wimmer of Thompson–Wimmer, Inc., a UAS consulting and systems integration company in Sierra Vista/Fort Huachuca, Arizona is also “frustrated by the limitations placed upon commercial and private-party uses of UAS technologies.” Mr. Wimmer stated, “Our hands are tied. There are so many wonderful uses for UAS technology that could benefit not only the United States, but the world.
The restrictions upon the industry will benefit no one other than the U.S. government. It’s preposterous. In a time when the people of this country need exciting technologies, economic opportunities, innovation, and a rebirth of the entrepreneurial spirit, we are hampered by “red tape and nonsensical mandates” by an agency that either doesn’t truly understand the industry, or that has an “agenda” that excludes the greater good of the American people.”
- What new FAA plans will mean to the future of drone journalism (niemanlab.org)
- FAA Paves Way For Large-Scale Use Of Civilian Drones In American Skies (mintpressnews.com)
- Domestic Drone Information Center (backcountryvoices.wordpress.com)
- Unmanned Aircraft Systems Test Site Selection (UASTSS) (backcountryvoices.wordpress.com)
- The Feds Have No Idea Who’s Flying Drones (motherboard.vice.com)