What’s Next for Drone Laws? The Commercial UAV Policy Panel at Airworks


One of the best aspects of this week’s DJI Airworks conference in Dallas was the opportunity to hear the industry’s biggest influencers speak about critical issues.  The Commercial UAV Policy Panel was moderated by DJI’s Vice President of Policy and Legal Affairs Brendan Schulman, and the panel included a critical player in drone policy at the FAA, Danielle Corbett (Aviation Safety Inspector); President and CEO of industry advocacy group AUVSI, Brian Wynne; Jaz Banga , CEO of counter UAV technology firm Airspace Systems; Diana Cooper, Senior Vice President of Policy and Strategy at PrecisionHawk; and Director of Policy Andrew Elefant at drone operations platform Kittyhawk.

With this diverse panel of representatives from manufacturers, drone ecosystem players, regulators and drone security firms the discussion was broad – but encouraging.  Topics ranged from the most important piece of current legislation, progress so far, and the biggest threat the industry faces today.

The Most Important Piece of Current Legislation on the Table

Brian Wynne of AUVSI put it succinctly: “Remote ID is the piece that will solve the most problems.  Getting that together will relieve a lot of concerns.”  Remote ID – the idea that every drone will be able to be identified and connected back with an operator, much like a car registration can be connected with a driver – has been moved forward by the repeal of Section 336 in the recently passed FAA Reauthorization Package.  The repeal of Section 336 makes it possible for regulators to move towards a scenario where there will be no “anonymous” drones in the airspace, a critical component of a successful UTM implementation and airspace security strategy.

Jaz Banga of Airspace Systems points out that airspace security is focused on detection, identification, and interception only as a very last resort.  He’s sees optimal counter UAS technology simply as an access system for protected areas.  Much like a hotel room key, an effective system allows those aircraft that are authorized in the space and performing necessary functions, while keeping unauthorized aircraft out, he explains.  Effective security around protected areas keep other areas open.  “Our job is to help operations scale,” he says.

DJI’s Brendan Schulman says that DJI has already implemented Aeroscope: a system which could provide an example of a Remote ID technology which is low-cost, low-burden and protective of operator privacy.

Progress

Schulman says that recently passed FAA Reauthorization package was the “culmination of a lot of work by lawmakers and industry.” [FAA Reauthorization] “has a lot of enabling provisions – it covers a lot of things that we’re already working on, which is good news.  We’re moving in the right direction,” says Danielle Corbett of the FAA.

“The dam has broken,” says Wynne.  “…Something as simple as 336 being resolved was becoming a barrier to move things forward… now it’s a question of figuring out the right sequence to get things done.” PrecisionHawk’s Diana Cooper says that FAA Reauthorization has, for the most part, “achieved the right balance,” between protecting innovation and dealing with security issues.

The IPP, LAANC, and UTM were also mentioned as recent progress towards drone regulation.

Corbett is careful to point out that the IPP is a way of including state and local regulators in the process of regulation, but is “not a delegation of authority,” says Corbett.  “It’s designed to see what state and local governments want, need, and are afraid of. ”

Kittyhawk’s Elefant comments that LAANC has represented a big step for operators.  “We’re really excited about the opportunities that LAANC will bring to our users,” says Elefant.  “The reason that LAANC is so exciting is that it brings a 90 day process down to 90 seconds.”  Asked if LAANC is a first step towards UTM, Wynne answers:  “In some ways it is a first step – in the sense of it addresses the need to automate things.”

The Biggest Threat to the Industry Right Now

In July of this year, Kittyhawk’s Andrew Elefant published an article in DRONELIFE about the Uniform Law Commission (ULC) proposed tort law on aerial trespass.  While this wasn’t an issue that most were familiar with at the time, it has since become a major topic of conversation in the drone industry.  With the exception of representatives from some airspace intelligence firms, the law would be a blow to the drone industry: potentially making operators subject to be sued for flying over homes and private property.

This is still an issue.  Brian Wynne of AUVSI recently published an op-ed titled The Biggest Threat to Drone Innovation is a Group You’ve Never Heard Of to adddress the issue.  “We’re always on some continuum of safety, privacy, and security – but Federalism is a false promise,” says Wynne.

While the panel members and the topics were diverse, there was broad agreement on what needs to happen for success in the drone industry: collaboration between regulators and industry players.  As regulation moves forward, these top industry influencers are taking a place at the table to ensure that the industry is free to continue to innovate and serve.

Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
Email Miriam
TWITTER:@spaldingbarker

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