Getting Schooled on UAVs, FAA Policy and Reality

Last week, I chaired a workshop on geospatial intelligence, part of the Space and Missile Defense Symposium's STEM program. During the morning session we focused on domestic homeland security and convened a panel of public safety officials from the Huntsville, Alabama region. Panelists included representatives from the Huntsville/Madison County Emergency Management Agency, Civil Air Patrol, County Sheriff's Office, Volunteer Fire departments and the city's GIS department.

We asked the question, "If you had a UAV available to you in an emergency would you use it?" There was skepticism and doubt about how the UAV would be utilized. When so many things are needed in emergency situations, are UAVs just one more thing to manage? Would the information be as useful as anticipated? Would it really be available in a timely manner? Good questions and not something I had thought of as my natural reaction had been "of course they would want it and use it!" Why would there be reluctance at all?

Consequently and as importantly we also discussed the current situation with the pending policy being deliberated and crafted by the FAA. More questions arose."Why is it taking so long?" to "Why are we a third world country when it comes to UAVs?"

It took someone more knowledgeable about the process to offer me some thoughtful insights, however my source will remain anonymous.

In the context of why the FAA is taking its time to get the policy correct and why it must enforce restrictions on commercial use of UAVs, he said this: "You don't want someone screwing up the situation. It's too important." In short, we need the FAA to be deliberate in formulating a policy that works. And, while many companies are anxious to launch profitable commercial operations, one tragic accident, one individual who violates current guidelines and goes rogue could very easily delay and impede the progress that would lead to sound policy that allows smooth integration of UAVs into the NAS.

We all realize that UAVs could and will revolutionize the mapping industry. It's already happening. But in the U.S. we are focused on setting the standard for safety and that's a key reason why the FAA must take its time. It's also a reason to police those who violate the current restrictions. We in the geospatial technology sector are at a critical juncture and we would be wise to err on the side of thoughtful deliberation of good policy rather than pushing the envelope until someone tells us to "stop."

Be sure to join our upcoming webinar on Operating UAVs in U.S. Airspace - the Legal Implications on August 27th.

Published Monday, August 18th, 2014

Written by Joe Francica

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