These last eighteen months has seen the small drone industry boom in a way few could have imagined, save perhaps those companies heavily invested in drones, their technology and their practical uses. However, with the dramatic increase in small drone popularity there logically comes a more urgent demand and need for drone regulation. This comes not only in light of the increasing numbers of ‘near misses’ between hobby-flown drones and commercial aircraft, but also the commercial side of the business where a wide variety of uses for drones, UAVs or quadcopters as they are also referred to, is currently being trialled.
This includes the likes of Amazon and DHL looking to provide drone package delivery services, through to drone use in disaster situations, for medical emergencies and/or for security purposes. The good news for many, but not all, is that the Federal Aviation Authority in the USA has now brought into enforcement a series of regulations, effective 21 December, 2015 governing the use of small drones weighing between 0.55lbs and 55lbs. These aircraft now have to be registered, along with registration of the owner, which has to be seen as a positive step where regulation is concerned, even if many feel this is taking the ‘fun’ out of the hobby side of the equation.
Seeing the need for regulation, back in 2014 the Small UAV Coalition was formed so that those directly involved in the drone industry, whether user or manufacturer, could have a voice. The Small UAV Coalition comprised the likes of Amazon Prime Air, AirMap, Intel, Google X, DJI and 3DR, and the coalition gave them power where lobbying for regulation was concerned, or as they put it, for “policies that promote innovation and safety, and create a practical and responsible regulatory framework.” However, you can probably see that interests were not mutual, as one element was more involved with the manufacturing side of drones, while the other was more concerned with their practical and functional use.
News this month that a splinter group has been formed should consequently come as no surprise. DJI and 3DR have been joined by Parrot and GoPro in the formation of the Drone Manufacturers Alliance. In a statement made by them, “There are significant economic and social benefits to drone operations in the U.S., and industry must work with policymakers to ensure a safe environment for flying. The Drone Manufacturers Alliance believes a carefully balanced regulatory framework requires input from all stakeholders and must recognize the value and necessity of continued technological innovation. By highlighting innovation and emphasizing education, we intend to work with policymakers to ensure drones continue to be safely integrated into the national airspace.”
The principal reason for the split has been the dichotomy created between those companies exploring commercial openings for drone use, and the consumer, who also happens to represent a massive section in the drone industry. In 2015 alone DJI forecast it would sell over $1bn worth of drones, and DJI are specialists in the manufacturing of small hobby drones as well as larger commercial models for tasks such as crop spraying, etc. Clearly drones are big business and drones are here to stay and will become very much a part of our daily lives. It is no longer a case of if, but when.
While we may feel that the use of drones has skyrocketed, excuse the pun, here at Quadcopters.com we believe that this is just the tip of the iceberg. The media is saturated with articles about hobby drones and regulations surrounding the use of hobby drones, but the commercial uses seem to be waiting in the wings while the relevant technology gathers momentum. One tends to forget that legislation regarding the use of drones for commercial purposes has been implemented since 2008 and currently what is known as a 333 exemption is required. This basically means that anyone operating a drone for commercial purposes has
to obtain a pilot’s license.
In our opinion, one of the major problems with drone
regulation is that there are so many elements to drones – from size and type, speed through to flight time, distances that can be covered, not forgetting the rights to privacy that are bound to become a hot topic of debate among non-drone enthusiasts. But as the uses for drones expands, the original legislation becomes more and more out of date, and almost irrelevant. Obtaining a pilot’s license to fly a drone is like getting a driver’s license for driving a car, but being able to drive a bus or truck as well. Nowhere is there any skills test for flying a drone and trust us, there needs to be where commercial operation is concerned. You can also get a pilot’s license just by flying a balloon!
So will the Small UAV Coalition be able to live in harmony with the newly formed Drone Manufacturers Alliance when their interests could not be further apart, or will the demands for legislation to benefit each side of the industry lead to a half-hearted solution that appeases neither side? Only time will tell, but we would be interested to know your thoughts on this topic.