The FAA Sees a Future for Commercial Drones

Posted on December 6, 2013. Filed under: Uncategorized |

By James Scott

Amazon made headlines this week with its announcement that its future Prime Air service will deliver packages to your door within minutes of online orders using drones.

The retail giant faces a series of Olympian hurdles including regulation from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) before it will be able to get its fleet of delivery robots off the ground. This time, though, the federal government may be ahead of the game.

In its first steps toward regulating what could become a multi-billion break out industry of the future, the FAA last month rolled out its five-year Roadmap to integrating unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) into America’s airspace.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a release issued along with the Roadmap on Nov. 7, that the use of commercial UAS, popularly called drones, is still a distant dream.

“Government and industry face significant challenges as unmanned aircraft move into the aviation mainstream,” Foxx said. “This Roadmap is an important step forward that will help stakeholders understand the operational goals and safety issues we need to consider when planning for the future of our airspace.”

The plan calls for three phases of regulation: accommodating existing UAS, integrating future UAS and evolving the rules to deal with emerging issues and new technologies. It’s this second phase, integration of future UAS, businesses should be keeping an eye on since that is where performance standards will be set.

Think this sounds like some far-flung science fiction that has no meaning for your business? Think again. In years past, businesses missed opportunities when they failed to embrace now-ubiquitous technologies, like online shopping and mobile applications to name just two.

Even if you’re not in the delivery business, imagine what near instant delivery could mean for just-in-time manufacturing models, or the delivery of supplies your business uses, or even how you lunch gets dropped off. It could eventually mean fewer vehicles on the road, enhanced fuel conservation, and less pollution.

It could be revolutionary for all areas of business and commerce and, thus, for the economy as a whole. And the FAA is taking the possibility of a sky filled with commercial worker bees very seriously.

It sounds like the FAA is headed toward regulations that would put UAS somewhere between highly regulated manned aircraft and the largely unregulated smaller remote control aircraft that fly within the line of site of the operator.  The Roadmap suggests, for example, that UAS pilots will require certification that differs from that required of manned-vehicle pilots. Airworthiness rules, meanwhile, would likely be similar to those that govern manned aircraft.

“The FAA is committed to safe, efficient and timely integration of UAS into our airspace,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. “We are dedicated to moving this exciting new technology along as quickly and safely as possible.”



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