American companies want to expand their use of UAVs

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Commercial drones FAA regulations

Will the U.S aviation authorities succumb to the pressure for a wide use of UAV (unmanned aerial vehicles) for commercial purposes?

For now, the US is lagging behind Europe in the commercial exploitation of drones, forcing a growing number of companies to consider relocating their operations across the Atlantic. This according to experts in the unmanned aircraft industry who spoke with the Guardian.

Several commercial operators have begun aggressively adopting the technology in France, Germany, the UK and other European. Regulators in those countries are less onerous when it comes to using unmanned aerial systems (UAS) compared with the US. Small drones are being used for delivery services, precision agriculture and inspection of infrastructure such as power and pipelines.

The Federal Aviation Authority (FAA), in contrast, has proposed new rules for commercial drone use, imposing stringent safety controls. Many reports on the FAA’s proposed new guidelines include businesses saying that the new US regulations will tie their hands at a time when European competitors are tearing ahead. In particular, the insistence by the FAA that commercial drones must remain in the pilots’ line of sight, is seen as a serious impediment to development of both the technology and further applications.
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AUS&R2015_728x90Michael Drobac, executive director of the Small UAV Coalition told the Guardian that the line-of-sight limitation makes no logical sense. “If the vehicle is 500ft in the air, can a person on the ground objectively see it? Receiving a view from the aircraft through an iPad or other device would improve visibility.”

The Small UAV Coalition has 24 members, including Amazon, Google and GoPro. Drobac added, “every member is contemplating moving abroad for testing and development – they are all thinking about it. The set-up in the US is not hospitable to testing.”

Another coalition member, San Francisco-based Airware, produced integrated software and hardware packages that control a drone’s flight systems and allow the streaming and analysis of data collected by its sensors. Airware’s director of business development, Jesse Kallman, said the FAA’s proposals were “expected but disappointing” as they were far more restrictive than rules set by French and other European regulators.

The frustration among companies such as Airware stems from the fact that while there is proven technology around, that can ensure high levels of safety in small commercial settings – the FAA still seems to ignore it. These safety measures include geo-fencing technology that contains a drone within a specified three-dimensional area; autonomous systems that allow the drone to “think” for itself should it lose GPS signal or contact with its operator, as well as a range of increasingly sophisticated sensors that can allow the vehicle to detect and avoid obstacles including buildings and people.