I read with interest the “7 Commercial Drone Predictions for 2017” report by Jeremiah Karpowicz, and even though there are seven distinct forecasts for the drone industry in this coming year, a few themes seemed to emerge from his analysis. They’re issues that will influence anyone looking to fly a drone for commercial purposes in 2017 and beyond.
2017 might be the year in which the UAV industry reaches the first stages of maturity. After entering a new phase in the cycle of any technology, brand new opportunities begin to present themselves. One of those opportunities is tied into what kind of users are going to get their hands on this technology. Up to now, only real visionaries and enthusiasts have been involved with the technology and have been selling its praises to the world. A few companies have adopted the new technology and have invested in pilot projects and formal assessments to evaluate how this new way of doing things can benefit the enterprise.
That’s going to change in a big way this year though. We’re at a point where new members of a corporation will be involved with the full deployment into day-to-day operations of the technology, although the demand for a quantified return on investment will be more pronounced than ever. Risk protection is something that will also need to be addressed in a specific manner, but the difference today is that organizations have the tools, guidelines and means to do so in a way they didn’t in previous years.
As with previous technologies over the past 40 years, beginning with the personal computer and continuing with the creation of the Internet, drone adoption will test the ability of the enterprise to adopt and integrate new do-or-die technologies and will put pressure on the regulators to move more swiftly to legalize and allow safe implementation. That brings us to another theme for 2017, which is associated with regulation.
2016 saw amazing advances in terms of the FAA’s implementation of clear guidelines for our industry in the form of Part 107. At the first anniversary of the online drone registration, the FAA announced over 600,000 unmanned aircrafts had been registered. Part 107 represents a critical development for the government and commercial operators, because it provides commercial drone operators the clarity and guidelines they had been asking to receive.
Now that we have rules for drone pilots and unmanned aircrafts firmly in place, 2017 might be the year that the FAA takes the first steps towards the integration of the nation’s airspace by allowing unmanned vehicles to coexist with current air traffic and perhaps new technology and safety standards will allow for flights beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) and above 400 ft. Even with all of the permissions that have been granted under 107, those are the sorts of operations than many are looking to see further defined and permitted.
Certain applications now live comfortably within the parameters of the current legislation but for the full deployment and benefits of other industries, such as package delivery, further improvements in the technology and legislation are necessary. That brings me to a third theme which was specifically called out in the report, which is related to layers of jurisdiction.
The FAA has managed to implement a federal rule to be followed in all 50 states, but the UAV industry still faces challenges at the state, county and city levels. Some municipalities have enacted, or are in the process of enacting, legislation to deal with drones over private property. It is ultimately the FAA which has responsibility for all civil airspace, including that above cities and towns, but those same cities and towns can further define and refine the permissions that are necessary to operate over them. A patchwork of regulation that would mean operators need to follow certain rules in one city and different ones in another isn’t what anyone wants to see, but avoiding that outcome will require cooperation across layers of government and within various industries.
We’ve made tremendous progress though, and 2017 might be the year when technology, regulation and corporate pressure bring the drone industry fully into the daily operations of many large companies and closer to the full integration of the airspace. Let’s all hope that drones stay out of the negative headlines and continue to prove their worth in the saving of lives, contributing to the bottom line and performing tasks in a less polluting manner.