With all the talk about drones, you’d think the industry was ready to take off. But not until the Federal Aviation Administration determines safety rules for commercial U.S airspace. And that could be more than 2 years away. Meantime, that means no flying commercial drones without a special permit.
Virginia Tech and its research partner, The Center for Naval Systems at Dahlgren are one of six sites in the country tasked with testing drones for use in commercial airspace. The Federal Aviation Administration will use their results to inform its rules and regulations. But until those rules governing come out, if you’re flying one, without a permit, for anything other than private use, you are violating FAA rules.
“I think it’s fair to say that the technology is a little bit ahead of the regulatory scheme right now,” says Jon Green of the Institute of Critical Technologies and Applied Science at Virginia Tech. He has been working on autonomous aviation systems for decades. He’s overseeing the testing.
“The test sites are intended to start collecting that data and providing them to the FAA so they can make risk based, data informed decisions about what should and should not fly.”
Green says drone testing will include not only question of safety, but also privacy and ecological concerns. The FAA has each test site to come up with a plan.
“Basically it says that were going to be good citizens and make sure that we’re not unintentionally collecting information on individuals that if we do unintentionally collect it we handle it appropriately.”
Green says it is how drones are ultimately used that will determine their impact on society.
“One of the things that I always say is that a hammer is a wonderful tool but it also can make a pretty nasty weapon. And I think you could say the same about unmanned aircraft systems. They could be used as weapons they could be used to intrude on people’s privacy and they can also be used for search and rescue and bridge inspections, pipeline inspections, and agricultural efficiency that really have a redeeming social value. And that’s what this test sites are about, to help us figure out how we use these things well.”
Testing is expected to get underway next month, and the hope is that a set of rules will be ready for public comment by late autumn. After that, it could take more than two years for rules and regulations to be adopted.