Expert: Drones Causing Major Aviation Disasters Is ‘A Question Of When It’s Going To Happen, Not If’

By Meaghan Corzine

WASHINGTON (CBSDC) — They’re the sky vehicles of the future, but integrating them into American airspace is no easy task. Drones, which are referred to by officials as unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), have significant differences and challenges than manned aircrafts.

The United States is home to the busiest and most complex airspace in the world. Expanding drone aircraft testing and regulating emerging technologies remains a major challenge to the Federal Aviation Administration.

“It’s possible the provisions of the final rule will change compared to the proposed rule. We are working hard to finalize the rule and make sure we get it right. This is a top priority for the administrator,” an FAA spokesperson tells CBSDC.

The FAA is working with developers, business owners and everyday Americans to apply standards and rules that ensure safe use of the new technology. About a year ago, the first FAA-authorized commercial drone operation launched in Alaska. New York, North Dakota, Texas, Nevada and Virginia are also included on the list of six FAA-approved UAS test sites to fly at or below 200 feet operation.

“Currently, unmanned aircraft cannot ‘detect and avoid’ other aircraft, and while such technology is under development, it is still not mature enough to allow widespread UAS use in the nation’s airspace. UAS also need reliable, robust command and control links between the pilot and the aircraft. Typical hobby-type UAS are not built with such electronic link standards,” the FAA told CBSDC.

As many steps as the FAA is taking to ensure airspace safety, many are still skeptical and wary of the drone use and regulations, which are still being established. What are the major obstacles and questions that still need to be addressed?

“The real challenges will be when we start dealing with UAVs beyond the UAS class.  High Altitude Long Endurance (HALEs) and Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALEs) will be flying in the airspace consistently with GA and Commercial Aviation… There is currently still a great deal of advancement that can happen while we wait for the FAA regulations to get approved,” David Vanderhoof,  co-host of the UAV Digest Podcast, tells CBSDC.

Another major concern of advocates and critics alike is operation near airports and the risk of major aviation disasters.

“Absolutely this is a concern. Unfortunately, it’s a question of when it’s going to happen, not if.  Education is the key. Unfortunately, you can’t remove the bad actors. People do dumb things, people do evil things. It’s human nature. We need to work with the people who say, ‘I didn’t know?’” Vanderhoof says.

The FAA states anyone flying within five miles of an airport needs to notify the airport and traffic control tower, a policy spelled out in the 2012 reauthorization language. The administration emphasized that anyone flying a UAS must always be the first to take action to avoid a manned aircraft.

Both the FAA and Vanderhoof agree that drone use doesn’t necessarily need to be reeled in, rather regulated carefully and safely.

“I could agree the need to reel in improper usage. UAVs are the future and as disruptive technology, we don’t know what good will come out of this technology. Just because there are dangers does not mean we need to tamper down innovation. Education is the key,” Vanderhoof added.

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