Editor's Points

Rules for Use of Drones Are Needed Soon

May 22, 2014
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It’s definitely in the air.

Unmanned aerial systems are in the air constantly. Hobbyists are allowed to fly UAS … commonly referred to as drones … so long as the craft doesn’t rise above 700-1,200 feet from ground level and doesn’t go near airports.

But everything on the spectrum of uses for drones that lies between hobby and government is fast being filled in. I saw a remarkable demonstration by Austodesk and 3D Robotics of drones being used for mapping at the SPAR International Conference in Colorado Springs earlier this year. Two missions were flown over Garden of the Gods public park: one manually controlled and one autonomous. From that, a 3D picture of the park and its remarkable red rock formations was produced with just 15 minutes of flight time. For surveyors, engineers and many other professions, drones have captivating potential.

Which brings us back to it being in the air. The battle between government regulators and businesses over the limits of drone use hangs in the air. The recent federal court decision on Huerta v. Parker is highlighted in this month’s POB in a story by Joseph V.R. Paiva. The FAA levied a $10,000 fine on a photographer who flew a drone over the University of Virginia to take picture that he used for a paid assignment. The court ruling, however, set aside the fine, stating that the FAA’s definition of drones and their uses was ill-defined. Popular Science said of the decision: “This is big.”

As many of you know, drones aren’t new. The first use of a drone came in 1849 when Austria launched 200 pilotless balloons with bombs in a war against Venice, according to Time magazine. Governments have tested and utilized drones in military actions for decades. Businesses like Amazon have made proposals to integrate drones into their daily work routine.

So that brings us to where we are today with different branches of government in the process of hammering out what public and business uses of drones should be. The FAA has made some rules about drones that don’t go far enough to set up a framework to move into future use. The courts, with rulings like Huerta v. Parker, are now part of the decision making process. Will legislators soon be making laws about drones?

Regulatory decisions need to be made quickly and not just for the sake of business moving forward. On March 22, a U.S. Airways Flight reported a near midair collision with a drone near an airport in Tallahassee, Fla. The drone was so close to the jet that the pilot was certain there was contact, according to CNN, although inspection after landing showed no evidence.

On May 2, Alfred Gates, a professor at Central Connecticut State University said during a lecture that until government safeguards are in place, the skies could be made unsafe with drone pilots who aren’t well trained. He raises a good point – what training measures should be adopted?

 Getting a structure of rules of use for drones as well as a standard of competence for operators is essential and needs to be done as soon as possible. We don’t need a conflict between business, government and personal users of drones hanging in the air. We need drones in the air servicing all interests.

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