Droning on about regulation is good news

Deep Dive



Spare a thought for drone regulators. Few industries have ever seen such amazing growth.

The US drone boom started in 2012. Almost overnight, for around $1,000 you could buy a remote-control aircraft that could fly up to 500 metres at speeds of 44 miles per hour.

Now every citizen had the potential to fly an aircraft in controlled airspace illegally and hundreds of thousands of people are buying them. To put it into perspective, there are about 213,000 commercial aircraft operating in the US. The number of drones already sold in the US exceeds 1.25 million.

It took until 2015 for the FAA to introduce mandatory registration of hobby drones. Since then more than 900,000 have been registered. The problem is the other 300,000 drones out there in the US that are unregistered.

Since this first wave of regulation, the US Department of Justice (DoJ) has not formally updated its unmanned aircraft policy – until this week.

Citing advancements in UAS technology and recent FBI drone tests, the DoJ updated its drone policy for the first time in four years. The updates focus on laying the groundwork for the state’s use of drones for law-enforcement missions.

“Our new policy promotes the responsible, appropriate, and effective use of UAS by the Department and can serve as a model for our state, local, tribal, and territorial public safety partners as they develop their own UAS programmes and best practices,” the announcement reads.

“Importantly, the new policy also requires components to evaluate UAS acquisitions for cybersecurity risks, guarding against potential threats to the supply chain and DoJ’s networks.”

This is most likely in reference to the Ministry of the Interior grounding its entire UAV fleet due to fears surrounding cybersecurity breaches. All drones operated by the ministry were either made in China or contained Chinese parts.

The FAA admits it was slow to respond to regulating drones. At Uber Elevate this year, Dan Elwell, the acting head of the FAA, said: “With drones, a whole new market appeared overnight, and we were left behind.”

But the Administration is setting things right with the latest wave of unmanned aircraft – eVTOLs. The FAA has been working closely with many of the US-based VTOL manufacturers to create a safe and beneficial regulatory environment for the budding technology. If you ask most eVTOL companies now, they have nothing but good things to say about the FAA’s cooperation.

“This is why we are working with everyone to get it right this time,” Elwell concluded.

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