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Drones - January 2017

Drone Use Soaring, but Many Challenges Remain

by Keith Miller

Though modern aerial drones have been in use for more than 20 years, only recently have they hovered into public consciousness. This is because their prices have dropped dramatically over the past five years, and legislation in numerous countries has legalized and defined their use.

During “Experiences with Drones: Opportunities and Challenges,” session attendees heard Lisa Ellman, partner and leading policy lawyer at Hogan Lovells, outline the current status of drone use, mainly in the United States. She is also co-founder of the Commercial Drone Alliance.

Ellman noted the global market value of drone-powered solutions is $127 billion, and in the United States, it’s expected to soon grow to $82 billion, with 11 million drones sold by 2020. Drones are being used for things like public safety, disaster response, news reporting, law enforcement, agriculture, and utilities inspections. “At amusement parks, drones could be used to inspect ride sections located at difficult heights, without necessitating downtime, and reduce inspection time by 50 percent,” Ellman said.

As of Aug. 29, 2016, it’s legal to fly drones for commercial use in the United States, and NASA is leading the development of “highways in the sky” for drones. But at the state and local level, action on drone policy is moving slowly. Ellman also said the Federal Aviation Administration, which regulates U.S. drone use, is far behind in understanding drones and regulates them exactly as it regulates 747s.

U.S. commercial users of drones currently must have a pilot’s certificate and TSA clearance. The drones must be kept away from people and airports, and most importantly, the drone must remain within eyesight of the operator, which Ellman said is a very limiting requirement.