While safety – particularly potential threats to conventional aircraft – was a priority, the FAA seemed to go much too far in restricting the process. Burdensome registration requirements were eventually dropped, but there were still restrictions on not only where and when drones could fly, but how far they could be from the operator.
In upstate New York, a fifty-mile corridor of airspace is being established near the site of a former military base where drones and pilots will be trained, tested and evaluated. Hopefully, the results of this study and others in several other states will lead to some common sense in the regulatory environment.
There was a need for a testing area this large because of one of the worst aspects of the initial FAA regulations. Drones were not supposed to be operated out of the line of sight of the operator except in emergencies. This rendered them effectively useless for all but the most trivial activities of hobbyists.
Meanwhile, new uses for drone technology have been cropping up all over the world. In Europe they are already deploying drones at beaches so they can be used to save people from drowning. The drone also has a camera and can monitor the person in need of assistance as well as helping to guide the lifeguard to the victim.
In Texas, following Hurricane Harvey, insurance companies received permission to use drones to begin surveying damage and processing claims for homeowners long before it was safe to send people in to do inspections. This not only kept the company’s employees safe, but reduced congestion on the already blocked roads so first responders could get in and out to do their jobs.
This technology is advancing rapidly. Unfortunately, it appears to be outstripping the pace of our government in keeping up with it. But the testing currently kicking off in more than half a dozen states may go some ways toward catching up.