Drones Await Regulation

Drones Await Regulation

By Dialogo
September 05, 2013

Unmanned aerial vehicles have already proved to be effective within the military scope, and they would be very useful in civil life, but there are no regulations for commercial use.

Considering the amount of unmanned aerial vehicles displayed at a recent international exhibition in Washington, the so-called “drones” are here to stay, but their wider application in the commercial sector is impeded due to the lack of regulation.

These aircraft have several advantages: they are less expensive than manned aircraft, they can be sent to dangerous missions without putting a crew at risk, and have potential beyond the military field.

Drones can be used to find lost hikers in the woods, examine crops, deal with wild animals, spray vineyards, distribute medicine, for oil exploration, to examine power lines, and even for deliveries.

The main obstacle in the use of civil unmanned aerial vehicles in the U.S. is the lack of regulation. The institution in charge, the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA), only allows restricted use of drones in low-traffic areas, such as Alaska.

Operators must request an experimental navigation certificate in order to fly one, excluding the transport of people or goods in exchange for payment, but it “allows operations for research and development, flight and sale demonstrations and crew training,” according to the FAA.

This is what AeroVironment is planning to do with its popular drone Puma, according to Davod Heidel, the company’s head of marketing.

“As it was announced a couple of weeks ago, we are looking to obtain the restricted category classification from the FAA, so that we can fly our Puma over the Arctic, and then look for oil leaks, study wild life and the coast,” he said.

The exhibition held at the Washington Convention Center, displayed not only several unmanned planes and helicopters, but also aerial devices, autonomous submarines, and other remote control devices.

Manufacturers emphasized that the vehicles they design for military use can be readapted to be used in a civilian environment.

“Currently we are providing services to the military, border patrol, firefighters, and the police,” Jason Rittenhour stated, an Applied Research Associates engineer who added that there is special interest in SWAT teams so they can have an aerial view of what they want.

However, the process to authorize further commercial use of drones is moving slower than technology, since the FAA has not designed policies aimed at protecting the privacy of U.S. citizens.

Congress could consider a bill to stop the process until the FAA files a report about potential privacy issues related to the use of drones.

Meanwhile, manufacturers will still rely on military and police agencies’ purchases.