Last month, the FAA announced that it was establishing partnerships with CNN, BNSF Railway and Precision Hawk for the following purposes regarding small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS):
  • Visual line-of-sight operations in urban areas: CNN will look at how UAS might be safely used for news gathering in populated areas. 
  • Extended visual line-of-sight operations in rural areas: This concept involves UAS flights outside the pilot’s direct vision. UAS manufacturer Precision Hawk will explore how this might allow greater UAS use for crop monitoring in precision agriculture operations. 
  • Beyond visual line-of-sight in rural/isolated areas: BNSF Railway will explore command-and-control challenges of using UAS to inspect rail system infrastructure. 

This is all really cool stuff, and we’re 100% behind the use of UAS tools.

That said – when we look at where current rule making is headed, the problem that we see is that the current concepts are leading to someone operating a UAS, weighing up to 55 pounds, at flight speeds up to 100 miles per hour. That’s exciting to think about, for sure, but here’s one extra exciting detail: by law, they wouldn’t have to perform any scheduled maintenance on these aircraft.

So you have a 55 pound flying object, with rotating blades, zipping along at 100 miles per hour but you don’t have to guarantee it’s reliable enough that it won’t fail in mid-flight and come careening down onto someone.
Here’s the concern: Mechanical systems fail. Electrical systems fail. People and property are underneath. When UAS and people meet, bad things generally happen… 

Exhibit 1: 
crashing into a car

Exhibit 2: 
crashing into a parade crowd

Exhibit 3: 
crashing into a stadium crowd

These were relatively LOW SPEED collisions – imagine the same scenarios playing out with a device moving 85+ miles per hour.

The current status quo is to replace parts when they break – a concept known as ‘run until failure.’ If you’re just playing with your toy drone in your back yard, that makes perfect sense. After all, who cares if your AR.Drone crashes on your roof? In the world of commercial aircraft, that model doesn’t work. You MUST use the concept of ‘replace before failure’ instead, because people’s lives are on the line.

So we post this not to be critical of those in charge or those building the technology but to gather comments, as we would love to funnel them to our regulatory contact at the FAA… plus, we’re genuinely interesting in hearing what you think! 

We TOTALLY understand making UAS accessible for all – they are the next great frontier in aviation – but we MUST protect people.  So let us hear from you in the comments – any thoughts or idea on this?