As the U.S. prepares for a new president, industry stakeholders wait to see what will change with the new administration. Here, industry leader Lisa Elllman discusses how drone technology could be used to address some of the problems the U.S. – and the world – now face.
The following is a guest post by Lisa Ellman, Chair of the Global Unmanned Aircraft Systems Group for Hogan Lovells, and Executive Director of the Commercial Drone Alliance. DRONELIFE neither makes nor accepts payment for guest posts.
How the Biden-Harris Administration Can Leverage Emerging Aviation Technologies to Confront Our Nation’s Biggest Challenges
The evening of Nov. 7, amidst the fireworks that followed President-Elect Joe Biden’s and Vice-President Elect Kamala Harris’s words to the nation, LED-lit drones illuminated the night sky over Wilmington, Del. Dozens of drones danced together to depict “Biden,” “46”, “USA” – and a glowing map of the U.S.
Not only was the light show entertaining, but it was also a welcome signal of the next Administration’s desire to embrace emerging technologies. To unleash the power of those technologies for Americans’ health, prosperity and quality of life, the Biden-Harris Administration, under the leadership of Pete Buttigieg as Secretary of Transportation, should move quickly to make rules that enable and support innovative aviation technologies.
Drones can provide extensive benefits and essential services – from delivering COVID-19 vaccines or critical supplies, to assisting with fire, public safety and natural disaster response, to inspecting and monitoring critical infrastructure. Investment in urban air mobility (UAM) technologies, such as electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft (eVTOL) and other emerging clean-fuel aircraft technologies, will similarly bring immense benefits to the public by reducing congestion along heavily burdened corridors and demonstrating U.S. leadership in sustainable aviation innovation.
Growth of these industries will unlock billions of dollars in economic growth over the next few years if the regulatory framework can keep pace with the rapidly evolving industry. Regulatory progress has lagged behind innovation. By accelerating current efforts, the Biden Administration can leverage the aviation technology industry in ways that will keep Americans healthy, put Americans back to work, and promote U.S. leadership in the world.
Deploy Drones to Buttress and Support America’s COVID-19 Response Efforts
Drones are already successfully delivering medical supplies in American communities. With the prospect of a vaccine finally on the horizon, drones can play a key role in delivering lifesaving COVID-19 vaccines and other medical supplies all across the country. The Administration should launch a UAS Vaccine Delivery Rapid Response Task Force to enable UAS delivery of vaccines and other critical supplies to vulnerable and difficult-to-reach populations, including remote, rural, and tribal areas.
More generally, Americans are increasingly seeking contact-free delivery service and industry is evolving quickly to meet these needs. However, to safely and broadly enable drone delivery operations at scale, organizations need to be able to fly in urban and suburban environments, and beyond visual line of sight. The Biden Administration should act expeditiously to accelerate efforts to integrate safe and routine expanded drone operations into the national airspace.
Create Infrastructure Projects and High Quality Jobs to Put Americans Back to Work
As healthcare workers work tirelessly to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, the nation faces the parallel challenge of restoring the U.S. economy and promoting job creation. To put Americans back to work and enable innovation to prosper safely here at home, the Biden Administration should enable low risk and high value UAS operations, including to inspect America’s aging infrastructure. The Administration should further support state and local governments as they undertake strategic planning for “next-generation” infrastructure systems for tomorrow. The new Administration should provide guidance and funding that enables states and cities to plan for UAS/UAM activities and build out the physical transportation infrastructure to support these operations.
The Biden Administration also can promote American competitiveness by growing and fast-tracking drone manufacturing capabilities in the U.S. Collaboration between the federal government and industry on important supply chain and drone security issues is similarly critical to opening the industry safely and securely.
Promote American Aviation Leadership
The U.S. has historically been a leader in aviation innovation. However, policy to enable commercial drone use has lagged behind technology, while many other countries have raced ahead. The Biden Administration should act swiftly to enable regulations that allow innovation to safely scale. Immediately appointing a U.S. representative to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) would further demonstrate the nation’sglobal leadership in developing standardized and harmonized approaches for airspace and infrastructure.
We are entering a new era of transportation and mobility, with drones and UAM at the heart of this movement. As the Biden Administration seeks to tackle weighty public health and economic challenges, the Commercial Drone Alliance and the broader industry stands ready to assist with the task of enabling emerging aviation technologies to unlock unique opportunities and benefits for us all.
Lisa Ellman chairs the Global Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Group for Hogan Lovells, a global law firm, where she’s a leading public policy lawyer focusing on domestic drones and other emerging technologies. Lisa is also the Executive Director of the Commercial Drone Alliance, an independent 501(c)(6) nonprofit led by key organizations in the commercial drone ecosystem. Lisa previously served the Obama Administration in various roles at the White House and Department of Justice, with a focus on emerging technologies.