NCET explores business and technology
The market for unmanned aerial systems (UAS) in the United States could top $11.4 billion by 2022 — and technology entrepreneurs in Northern Nevada are well positioned to capture a significant share of that business.
The problem? The Federal Aviation Administration, which generated the $11.4 billion estimate, acknowledges that the size of the UAS market depends in large measure on the regulations and legal structures that grow up around the industry.
Those structures currently are, to put it mildly, in a state of uncertainty.
The FAA faces a Sept. 30 deadline to issue rules to safely integrate commercial operation of unmanned aerial vehicles — including commercial use of small drones, those weighing 55 pounds or less — into the nation’s airspace. While the process has taken three years, industry observers have growing confidence that the federal agency will meet its deadline.
In the meantime, the FAA has speeded its approval of exemptions that allow some commercial operation of unmanned systems before the full regulations are in place.
The regulatory issues are many: Protecting traditional aircraft from mid-air collisions with unmanned vehicles, setting training standards for operators of unmanned aircraft, and determining the standards for airworthiness that will be required for drone manufacturers.
The political issues are complex, too. Congress has been pushing hard to ensure the FAA meets the Sept. 30 deadline. State legislatures have been jumping into the issue as well. Governor Brian Sandoval, for instance, recently signed into law a measure that provides privacy protection from UAS overflights, forbids weapons-carrying drones and sets rules for the use of drones by law enforcement agencies.
Those privacy issues are likely to be a hot-button issue nationally as ordinary folks and celebrities alike worry about snooping cameras mounted on unmanned aircraft. Media organizations lobby to ensure that UASs will be available for legitimate coverage of breaking news events. Federal agencies are slogging through development of rules that limit the use and storage of information gathered by federal agencies that use UAS technology.
Insurance companies, meanwhile, are sorting through the potential liabilities involved with the commercial operation of unmanned aerial systems, and a handful of insurers are beginning to offer policies that allow commercial operations to move forward.
Coverage is needed, for instance, to pay for the replacement of a drone that malfunctions or crashes and to pay for the damages that a crash causes to the property of others. UAS liability coverage also deals with risks such as software corruption or the inadvertent disclosure of private information, perhaps from a drone whose software has been hacked.
As UAS technology widens and changes rapidly, and as more commercial uses for the systems are identified, regulators and the legal system will feel growing pressure to keep up.
Learn more about the public policy issues surrounding UAVs at NCET’s special luncheon on Wednesday, Aug 19, at the Atlantis. Information and registration is at www.NCET.org
Dave Archer is President/CEO of NCET, which produces events to help individuals and businesses explore and use technology. This column first appeared in the Reno Gazette-Journal – RGJ.com