Is the Commercial Use of Drones In our Near Future?

February 7, 2014 Posted by Halling Meza

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Drones, otherwise known as unmanned aircraft systems or unmanned aerial vehicles may sound intimidating — but the public should get used to this technology, because it’s not going anywhere.

“When you hear the word drone, you probably think of a large military weaponized system — something that’s capable of persistent surveillance. That’s just not what we are talking about,” said Ben Gielow, government relations manager and general counsel at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International in Arlington, Va.  As the aviation industry increasingly embraces drones, their commercial and civilian use will become more and more common in the next few years, according to a panel of experts at a recent American Bar Association conference on aviation and space law.

Unmanned aircraft come in all shapes and sizes, have thousands of uses, and can be purchased by your average person.  This area is growing and the technology is becoming less expensive.

A team at the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology recently received a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to develop drones to deliver vaccines and medicines to remote locations and disaster zones. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has said it plans to use drones to watch for illegal activity among hunters. And a Domino’s franchise in the United Kingdom recently made news for delivering two pizzas using a drone. (We like ours with extra cheese and pepperoni!)

However, the Federal Aviation Administration has yet to develop regulations for the commercial use of drones in the U.S. While the FAA allows the recreational use of airspace by model aircraft, the agency specifically excludes individuals or companies flying these aircraft for business purposes.

The FAA Modernization and Reform Act, passed by Congress on Feb. 14, 2012, requires the agency to integrate unmanned aircraft into the national airspace system. The law gives the FAA specific deadlines to meet, including the crucial date of Sept. 30, 2015, by which time the FAA must allow for “the safe integration” of drones into the national airspace system.

While two drones have recently gained FAA certification for commercial use, the rest of the sector is stuck on the ground as the FAA works out its plans for integration.  Technological, regulatory, economic and public perception issues need to be resolved for the commercial use of drones to become routine.

While there is a lot of research into the issues related to the commercial operation of drones, at least 12 bills aimed at restricting the use of drones have been introduced in Congress this year.  Many are focused on the privacy issues.  In addition, there are real concerns regarding safety.  Crashes will sometimes happen, regardless of whether the drone’s operator is properly trained.  This may be a problem as most homeowners’ insurance and commercial liability policies include an aviation exception.  In addition, safety requirements are being discussed including the requirement for parachutes and sensors that shut the drone down when it comes close to objects.

Supporters of the commercial use of drones believe these aircraft can be beneficial.  They see the use of drones as having great promise. From a legal standpoint, interesting times are definitely ahead – not only in regards to the types of laws that will have to be written for such technology, but in the types of lawsuits it will most certainly bring.

Article Source:  ABA News Archive.
Photo Source: Don McCullough via Creative Commons

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