Partnering with governments for UAS success
19 June 2014, 9:30 a.m. EDT
by Duane Hyland, AIAA Communications
The message from the Wednesday afternoon panel, “Creating a Successful Commercial UAS Business Environment: Challenges and Opportunities,” is that if unmanned aerial systems – UAS – are to thrive in the U.S., the federal government, state governments, and the private sector will have to work together to achieve that goal. As the industry faces a host of issues from airspace integration to privacy law to emerging technologies and safety questions, no one entity can go it alone.
John Langford, chairman and CEO of Aurora Flight Sciences, moderated the panel, which included Nicholas Alley, president and CEO, Area-I; Morgan Cloud, Charles Howard Candler professor of law, Emory University; Steve Justice, director, Georgia Center of Innovation for Aerospace, Georgia Department of Economic Development; John Lambert, senior vice president, Nexutech LLC; Rose Mooney, executive director, Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership; and Elizabeth Soltys, UAS test sites program manager.
Lambert gave an overview of the potential UAS marketplace, listing some of the many civil applications of unmanned aircraft: “precision agriculture (remote sensing), agent applications (herbicides, pesticides), surveys (secondary land surveys, powerlines, land), public safety (law enforcement, firefighting, and aerial photography for real estate, film, etc.).” Potentially, said Lambert, the market is worth millions of dollars to investors and companies alike. They are now stymied, however, by a lack of UAS certification programs and questions about how UAS will be integrated into the National Airspace System.
Lambert said insurance remains a key obstacle to integration. There is little consensus on whether the insurance should be the kind now given to model aircraft hobbyists, the type given to general aviation, or a new class of insurance not yet created. Because these issues are unresolved, said Justice, UAS integration is really a question of finding out if there is a desire for services at the price-point that current conditions require, and if a match can be found with customers willing to buy them for that price.
Mooney and Soltys gave overviews of current UAS regulations. Mooney explained how the current test sites allow the FAA to work hand-in-hand with business and academia to find answers to some of the most pressing questions about integration: How will the UAS systems be made safe? How will unmanned aircraft fit into already crowded airspace? How can the operations and safety questions be answered in a way that allows effective, cost-sensitive use of the systems?
Cloud then covered the legal aspects of UAS. He started with the recent decision in Huerta v. Pirker, in which an administrative law judge ruled that the FAA does not have the power to regulate unmanned aircraft, meaning that they can be flown by anyone at any time and anywhere, possibly creating chaos in the air. Other legal factors that may hamper the growth of the market are Fourth Amendment concerns: Cloud noted that “about one-third of all the states now have some sort of law regulating drone [UAS] use because of privacy concerns.”
Cloud warned the audience that “you can’t assume everyone is [as] enthusiastic over rapid [UAS] growth as the people here [are]. People are terrified.” He then discussed a Texas law, calling it perhaps the best of the anti-UAS legislation, that makes flying UASs for the purpose of surveillance – which would include activities such as crop surveys or oil prospecting – illegal.
All the panelists agreed that one of the biggest obstacles to the formation of a UAS marketplace is the sheer size and volume of traffic in the NAS. They pointed out that most UASs are not flying in barren, remote regions, but through some of the busiest airspace on the planet, prompting Justice to say, “It’s actually our success that slows us down – the airspace is crowded.”
Justice theorized that with so many legal, technical, safety and other issues, the UAS market is one in which it would probably be “better to be second than first, as the first people will learn hard lessons in liability areas. The second people will reap the rewards.”
In summing up, Justice said “there are some things where the FAA won’t be the biggest concern.” The UAS market has a lot of moving parts, and no one entity will build it alone, the panel concluded.
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