January 8, 2015
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, or ‘UAVs’ have not only been captivating the news media, but also garnering positive– and negative– reactions from companies, the public, and various government agencies, including the FAA.
The Consumer Electronics Association, which organizes the 2015 CES Show, recently stated the drone market should be worth about $130m in 2015 – 50% higher than 2014.
There is quite a bit of frustration on the ground in the US, due to the slow pace of the Federal Aviation Administration’s rules and regulations regarding commercial use, and the agency has been noncommittal about a timeline.
The Federal Aviation Administration missed its self-imposed deadline of Dec. 22 to propose rules for small commercial drones in the U.S.–regulations it began working on more than five years ago.
Currently, the commercial use of drones is banned in the United States, which has left professional photographers, filmmakers, real estates agents, farmers and others angling for space in a highly restricted, yet largely uncharted marketplace.
While some drone operators have already created websites and offer aerial photography for hire, the FAA has targeted people in nine states and issuing fines and a total of 17 cease and desist letters to those operating drones for a commercial purpose.
The FAA states that safety is their first mission. Unmanned Aircraft Systems operations are currently not authorized in Class B airspace (PDF), which exists over major urban areas and contains the highest density of manned aircraft in the National Airspace System.
Since June 1, pilots have reported 25 near-collisions with rogue drones and about 150 other incidents in which drones were spotted in forbidden airspace. In addition, safety incidents reported to the FAA have grown to more than 40 per month, according to data reported for the first time in November 2014.
However, hobby or recreational flying currently doesn’t require FAA approval.
Posted guidance from the FAA states that ‘model aircraft’ should not interfere with manned aircraft, be flown within sight of the operator and be operated only for hobby or recreational purposes. The agency also explains that model aircraft operators flying within five miles of an airport must notify the airport operator and air traffic control tower.
The FAA is obliged to integrate drones into the US air traffic by September 30, 2015, but it is highly unlikely that the deadline will be met.
The total number of companies currently allowed by the FAA to commercially operate drones in the U.S. is 13.
Recent news for 2015 includes that the FAA allowed the first real estate company to use drones for aerial photography.
The FAA also recently granted an exception to allow a drone for monitoring crops in Washington State.
The first exemptions were handed out in June 2014 — the first attempt by the FAA to legislate drone use in the United States. Oil and Gas company BP used its drone to survey Alaska’s North Slope to oversee maintenance activities taking place there.
Outside of the US, UAV usage is much more common. Google drones are already flying in Australia.
Stockpile Reports was in Australia several times in 2014. We’ve been able to measure volumes and map stockpiles safely there, using UAVs as well as an iPhone.
Unlike in the US, rules for commercial usage in Australia are clearly posted and enforced. Drone/UAV fliers must have an Unmanned Operator’s Certificate issued by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA). Here is the latest restrictions as of December 2014.
The FAA on Dec. 22, 2014 began a drone-safety campaign entitled Know Before You Fly along with a group representing hobbyists and two trade groups. The Consumer Electronics Association endorsed the effort in a press conference at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
However, frustration has set in for the industry, and even Congress is now interested in the FAA’s plans for commercial drones and how the FAA will address the differences between using a drone for commercial purposes versus for recreation.
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