A look at recent and near-future legislation affecting UAVs for geospatial business use.
By Jeff Salmon
The ability to fly beyond line of sight (BVLOS) is paramount to a wide range of UAS operations, including utility and pipeline inspections and monitoring, open pit mining, precision agriculture, corridor mapping, large-area mapping and surveying, and a host of other applications.
At the end of 2016, the FAA approved a certificate of authorization (COA) for the Northern Plains UAS Test Site in North Dakota to be the first in the U.S. to have BVLOS operability. This test site will be able to support the development, testing, and evaluation of new applications for UAS technology. Significantly, no chase planes will be required.
Two military UAS contractors, Northrop Grumman (Global Hawk) and General Atomic (Predator and Reaper), have become the anchor tenants of the test site, while other companies are applying to move into the facility and begin their own testing of new hardware and software designed to make BVLOS flight operations a reality.
The FAA has authorized testing ground-based sense-and-avoid technologies at the North Dakota site; sense-and-avoid will be critical to BVLOS operations.
Executive “2 for 1” Repeal Order May Impact UAS
The President’s order to reduce regulations on small businesses has raised concerns in the UAS industry that actually needs more federal rules in order to take flight. The order put a limit on each agency’s regulatory ability through the annual budget and required that the cost of any new regulations be balanced through the repeal of at least two old regulations.
Small UAV Coalition Congratulates Secretary Chao
The Small UAV Coalition is a partnership of leading consumer and technology companies that believe that U.S. leadership in the research, development, production, and application of UAVs will benefit consumers in all walks of life. The coalition recently congratulated Elaine Chao on being confirmed as the 18th secretary of transportation.
Secretary Chao takes office at a pivotal time for the commercial UAS industry. As she said during her confirmation hearing, “Drones are poised to become a major commercial force.” The coalition agrees with Secretary Chao that, “We need a national consensus on our approach to drones, rather than a patchwork of state regulations.”
On-board Sense-and-avoid Technologies
A tiny, dime-sized ADS-B transponder that can fit into professional- and consumer-level sUAS has been demonstrated by uAvionix Corporation as a potential solution to dealing with high levels of drone traffic in the future. The transponder would give manned and unmanned aircraft the ability to see and avoid each other.
For now, the transponder is only a technology demonstrator as its low power (1 to .25 watts) is not currently legal in the U.S., an issue uAvionix would like to see addressed through the development of new low-power transponder standards. The company is working with FAA and other partners under a collaborative research and development agreement to test the unit, along with other Avionix products.