Today, Airware’s Head of Regulatory Affairs, Jesse Kallman, testified before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Aviation. As the representative for the growing commercial drone market, he spoke about the impact of delayed regulations on U.S. businesses, and the need for risk-based regulations. You can watch the full hearing here.
We are grateful for the opportunity to testify. As a former commercial pilot, I understand the challenges, complexities, and necessity of safely integrating unmanned vehicles into our National Airspace System (NAS). However, the United States’ competitive advantage in this industry slips every day that regulations are delayed.
There is no denying it, the commercial drone market is here and growing faster than ever. Airware has a unique perspective. We don’t build drones or complete systems. We provide the platform for other companies to build upon. This platform includes hardware which is installed into the aircraft, software to configure and fly the vehicle, and cloud services to collect, analyze and disseminate data collected by the drone. As a result, we work closely with many companies across the industry including vehicle and sensor manufacturers, operators, insurance companies, and software application developers. We see, firsthand, the impact that delayed regulations are having on U.S. companies. Many are moving abroad, where regulations are more mature. Others are losing ground as their foreign competitors test, build and release products more quickly.
Delayed regulations are hurting more than just commercial drone companies. Major corporations see commercial drone technology as key to their growth and to remaining competitive in a global marketplace. We recently announced a strategic investment from General Electric. GE and many of the United States’ largest corporations are exploring ways to use commercial drones to collect better data, make more informed decisions and keep workers out of harm’s way. But, with the uncertain regulatory environment, they aren’t able to begin using commercial drones as a part of their everyday businesses.
So how do we remain competitive and safely integrate commercial drones into the world’s most complex national airspace?
Technology has to be a major part of the solution. Technology such as software geo-fencing, which keeps a vehicle within certain altitude and geographic regions, and contingency management systems which enable the vehicle to safely land when an issue such as loss of communications arises. These technologies are enabling our customers to use commercial drones safely while complying with regulatory and insurance requirements. We are also working with NASA and others in the industry to help develop an UAS Traffic Management System (UTM) as a means to safely manage many of these small commercial drones.
Automation is also key to improving safety. Researchers have shown that human error is the major contributor to most aviation accidents. NASA has long cited that 65% of commercial jet accidents are directly attributable to human error and Boeing has more recently documented human error as the primary contributor to more than 70% of commercial airplane hull-loss accidents. With autonomous flight, including take-off and landing, we can remove the human error that causes many accidents.
In addition to looking to technology and automation, we must create regulations here in the U.S. that are based on risk. Most commercial drone uses, such as inspecting cell towers, monitoring crops, and surveying quarries, will fall outside of the typical airspace used by commercial and general aviation and will happen far from populated areas. A very small aircraft operating over a remote farm field should be subject to fewer regulatory requirements than a larger aircraft operating over a populated area. Our customers in Europe and other parts of the world are successfully operating under these types of risk-based regulations today.
We know that UAV technology is already revolutionizing industries – helping farmers get higher crop yields, aiding in efforts of first responders and search and rescue teams, making infrastructure safer through more frequent inspections, keeping workers out of harm’s way and ultimately saving lives. These applications are happening around the world, today, in countries where regulations are more mature than ours, or at least where the countries lack a blanket prohibition. They are also happening here in the United States, but in the shadows and by operators who want risk-based guidelines that promote safe operations of commercial drones and enable them to keep their businesses in the U.S. We know that commercial drones will create jobs, save lives and grow the economies of those countries with the foresight to act.
Alan is serial entrepreneur, active angel investor, and a drone enthusiast. He co-founded DRONELIFE.com to address the emerging commercial market for drones and drone technology. Prior to DRONELIFE.com, Alan co-founded Where.com, ThinkingScreen Media, and Nurse.com. Recently, Alan has co-founded Crowditz.com, a leader in Equity Crowdfunding Data, Analytics, and Insights. Alan can be reached at alan(at)dronelife.com