Posted By Simon Montford on Oct 6, 2014
One could argue that not allowing commercial drones (defined as UAVs weighing +55lbs/+25kg in the US, +44lbs/+20kg in the UK) to take to the skies is harming the economy and costing lives. Regulation is of course needed because the CAA and FAA can't allow drones to be flown "willy-nilly" above British and American skies but clarity is urgently needed.
The CAA have issued guidelines aimed primarily at smaller drone operators, like hobbyists and a new breed of 'drone privateers' that attach high-def cameras that gather footage for film production companies, news agencies, property surveyors etc. In Europe the EU has issued a 'Roadmap for RPAS' and Stateside, the FAA are being heavily criticised for moving too slowly. They did recently increase the legal distance that model aircraft and hobbyist drone operators are allowed to fly near airports from three to five miles but this may have been a knee-jerk response to a jerk (no pun intended) who decided to fly a drone 4,000ft (1,200m) above LAX, the legal altitude in America is only 500ft (150m).
Jerks like this one aside, there are many responsible people and businesses that could potentially be using commercial drones to make a positive impact on the economy and society in general. For example, commercial drone operators could be rushed to the scene of a fire to help fire fighters fly drones into burning buildings to identify threats and even fly high priority casualties away from danger. Commercial drone operators could also help Search and Rescue find stranded hillwalkers far more quickly and cost-effectively than by foot, vehicle or helicopter and airlift them out. Logistics firms could use drones to potentially save lives by delivering large payloads of urgent medication to remote locations. Heavy-duty drones weighing more than those that are currently allowed to fly, would be required for these types of roles.
Congress has asked the FAA to establish rules and standards by September 2015 but it is very likely that this deadline will not be met as the organisation is apparently already way behind schedule.
Some commercial drones are allowed to operate within some countries, including the States, but under very specific circumstances. For example, as previously reported, DHL has been given the green light in Germany to deliver high-priority goods to the island of Juist. BP and ConocoPhillips are using drones in the States, and several low-to-middle income countries in Africa are allowing drones to be used for anti-poaching and ecological applications.
Most of the anti-poaching initiatives have so far been funded by charities, but as the scale of the ecological challenge is gargantuan, far more needs to be done - according to the WWF "Earth lost half of its wildlife in the past 40 years"! This is why commercial businesses must be allowed to flourish at home and abroad so they can make money and be good global citizens at the same time. For example, Google recently provided a much-needed grant of $5m to help the WWF and AirWare donated free drones. Yes I know this is not a purely philanthropic act by either company. Both are smart organisations that know Africa is not only an ideal test-bed for drone R&D but also a potentially huge market. Regardless of their motives, I am totally in favour of public-private initiatives if they help protect wildlife and make the world a better place.
There are some indications that the FAA are starting to get their act together. For example, as previously mentioned, two oil companies were among the first to receive FAA certification. BP was granted permission to fly an AeroVironment Puma in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, and ConocoPhillips was given approval to fly a ScanEagle, made by Insitu Inc. One BP employee claimed that a single Puma flight created more useful data in 45 minutes than they had been able to obtain in 30 years! Apparently BP plans to use the drones to monitor the condition of their structural assets, keep an eye on wildlife and monitor the environment.
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The following selection of videos show how drones could be used by commercial operators to save the environment, save wildlife and even save human life.
A billion people in the world lack access to roads which leads to isolation. Andreas Raptopoulos of Matternet wants to create a new type of transportation system that uses drones to deliver urgent supplies wherever they are needed.
Drones could be used to prevent over-fishing or illegal dumping of waste products. Patrol boats with on-board drones could act as a deterrent and use the footage to prosecute. This footage simply illustrates the art of the possible, no wrong-doers here, just breathtaking views of a dolphin stampede and whales off Maui.
Drones can go where no man can so they could be used to monitor natural phenomena to help the fight against climate change. Check out this amazing footage of an erupting icelandic volcano taken with a DJI Phantom 2 quadcopter with GoPro cam.
Drones beware. If they don't treat nature with respect nature will fight back!
Other videos relating to this news story:
The first commercial drone to obtain FAA approval
Drones can be used to find missing persons.
Businesses can't wait for drone rules to be issued by the FAA. They really can't. Estimates on business drone usage are in the tens of thousands...and they're overwhelming the FAA, which is still trying to come up with rules for flying them.
Drones will transform the way tv news is broadcast in the future. BBC News recently used a "hexacopter" for the first time which allows the filming of locations and angles that previously would not have been possible.
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