The water cooler topic of late seems to be drones. The technology for small, unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) for use in domestic commerce is evolving faster than standards for larger drones, but how to regulate them has the aviation industry wringing its hands.
The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) is working on new safety standards for 2018 on large UAS that cross borders, but the agency is considering helping countries draft domestic rules for integrating drones into their airspace, according to a report in Reuters. Industry analyst Teal Group predicts that the UAS industry will evolve into a US$91 billion market in 10 years. And while the ICAO can’t interfere with state sovereignty, it does set the safety standards that usually become requirements in its 191 member countries.
On March 23, aerospace manufacturers urged member countries to work with the ICAO to create common global safety standards for drone use, such as licensing and pilot qualifications.
“We shouldn’t drag our feet on developing a global regulatory system,” said Marion Blakey, the chair of the International Coordinating Council of Aerospace Industries. The manufacturing trade group represents businesses such as Boeing and Airbus.
Following the Federal Aviations Administration’s slow reaction to Amazon, and the e-commerce giant’s need to test new drones, FAA deputy administrator Michael Whitaker said the agency also favored international standards.
Amazon appeared to have won a small victory this month when it received approval from the FAA to test-fly its delivery drones in the U.S. – with many restrictions – but by the time the company got the approval for the drone it was testing, the device was already obsolete. Amazon has developed newer models, which it is testing in the U.K. and other countries. The company has said that the FAA is too restrictive on their policies on drones, and would prefer to have a commercial drone exemption, like ones granted to roughly 50 operators in the U.S.
The FAA is working on proposed rules for UAS’ which include stipulations that they cannot fly over 400 feet, they must be in the line of sight of the operator at all times, they can only be operated in the daytime, and that the operator has to have a pilot’s license and current medical certification, to name a few. The agency is expected to deliver completed rules for drones next year.
But Paul Misener, Amazon’s vice-president for global policy, testifying before a Senate aviation subcommittee March 24, said that the FAA should hasten its plans and allow independent drone flights beyond the sight of the operator, which drone advocates say is necessary to allow the device to be used to its full potential.
Pictured: Drone developed by the CIA in the 1970s.
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