The newly proposed Federal Aviation Administration’s regulations for small commercial drones won’t significantly affect the mission of Central New York drone developers.
Under the FAA’s proposition, operators of smaller drones, known as unmanned aircraft systems, won’t be allowed to fly above 500 feet. Technological limitations, such as the UAS's inability to sense and avoid other aircraft, prevent drone operators from flying beyond their line of vision, said Lawrence Brinker, NUAIR Alliance’s executive director. He oversees the Griffiss Air Base in Rome, where tests to advance the technology are conducted.
“They are interested in sort of transforming the test ranges into innovation zones, which is something we’ve been asking them to take a look at for a long time, where the test ranges all around the country (us and the other five) would be involved in research and development that would actually allow for innovation in this new technology,” he said.
The restrictions allow UAS operators to fly drones that weigh less than 55 pounds only within their visual line of sight, so that they can avoid collisions with other aircraft. This, along with technological limitations, will put Amazon's plans for drone-delivery service on hold, Brinker said.
“And Amazon is not happy about the new rules because it didn’t allow for beyond-line-of-sight operation,” he said. “But that’s where we have to get to, but it’s certainly feasible, and it can certainly happen. I believe it will happen in my lifetime.”
The technology for a drone’s ability to go beyond the visual line of sight doesn’t exist, yet. That’s why Brinker's group is helping companies such as Lockheed Martin convert regular aircraft to UAS’s, which can be used in emergencies, such as natural disasters.
“They used a small UAS to find essentially a forest fire. And the information gained by the small UAS was transmitted to a large UAS, a full-size helicopter called a K-MAX that is unmanned," Brinker said. "And it was able to pick up water from a water source, find the fire and put it out.”
To fly a small UAS, one must be at least 17 years old, pass biennial FAA tests and obtain a $150 operator’s certificate. There are also limitations of where to fly in order to keep aircraft, people and the property below safe.