MDC Systems® has recently entered the commercial drone industry with its drone for various inspection and engineering evaluation services. The future for the commercial drone industry looks very bright. In 2015 the U.S. commercial drone market size was an estimated $400 million, and by the year 2022 it is projected to grow to over $1 billion. With the advances in technology and continued development of cutting edge drones, more and more applications for these drones are emerging. MDC Systems® plans to be an important player in this exciting and expanding industry.
The way the world looks at drones is starting to change. For many people drones conjure up images of military strikes against enemy targets. The news has reported countless times on drone strikes against terrorist threats in the Middle East. Using drone technology for military purposes has been very effective and efficient, but there are also many commercial applications for drones that are now emerging. Drones, known officially as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), are made in all different shapes and sizes. The military drones talked about in the news are of large size and look similar to manned aircraft, but there are also drones that are a fraction of that size that can be used for various commercial purposes. Various companies throughout the world have created innovative and state of the art drones that are equipped with high definition cameras, intelligent flight batteries, and a very accurate GPS system. These small drones can be used for such activities like bridge and building inspections, power line inspections, cell phone tower inspections, aerial photography and surveying, and property damage inspections. Drones have the potential to eliminate the risk of serious injury when inspecting very tall structures or dangerous areas. Police departments have begun to look into the use of drones for search and rescue missions. There are reports of Amazon looking to deliver packages with drones. WalMart is currently planning to use drones to monitor warehouse inventories. A startup company named Zipline is planning to use drones to deliver medical supplies and blood to patients in poverty stricken Rwanda. The use of drones can go beyond the commercial sector and in certain cases can even be used to help others.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is tasked with regulating the use of drones in the United States, both commercially and recreationally. When you step outside, the air around you is considered national airspace and under the FAA’s authority. As hard as it may be to enforce the rules and regulations for all the small drones that exist out there, the FAA currently says you should not fly a drone above 400 feet whether it’s for commercial or recreational purposes. Any person that purchases a drone is now required to register their drone with the FAA. There are various classes of airspace that you are not allowed to fly in and if you are within 5 miles of an airport, you must contact the airport control tower before flying. Anyone that has a drone just can’t go out and use the drone for commercial purposes. The FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 (FMRA, reauthorized in 2016) originally established the rules and guidelines for commercial drone usage in the United States. Before this legislation, commercial drones were treated the same as any other commercial aircraft such as passenger or cargo jets and thus subject to the same painstaking regulatory and statutory requirements and certification process as large manned aircraft. The FAA eased these restrictions by allowing exemptions under Section 333 of the FMRA. These Section 333 exemptions allow a company to use drones for commercial purposes without going through the certification process for manned aircraft. The Section 333 exemption still requires the drone operator to have a sport pilot license, which is a pilot certification that requires at least 20 hours of flight time and one cross country flight. Companies can submit a petition for a Section 333 exemption to the FAA. As of today, over 5,000 exemptions have been granted to various companies throughout the United States. The FAA has received such a high volume of these petitions that there have been long delays in processing them.
However, rules change quickly. Seeing that the requirement for drone operators to have a manned pilot license was burdensome to the commercial drone market, last year the FAA released a notice of proposed rulemaking that sought to create a new rule for commercial drone use. This new rule would further relax the restrictions for the commercial use of drones weighing 55 pounds or less. On June 21st, the FAA formally announced that this new rule is now final and will become effective in 60 days. The rule will eliminate the pilot license requirement for commercial drone operators and will establish a ‘Remote Pilot in Command’ who will hold a remote pilot airman certificate with a small UAS rating. To obtain this certificate, one is required to pass an initial aeronautical knowledge test at an FAA-approved knowledge testing center and submit an application. Before a certificate is issued by the FAA, the Transportation Security Administration will conduct a security background check of the remote pilot applicant. The pilot must pass the aeronautical knowledge test every 24 months in order to maintain a valid remote pilot certificate.
Chris Capone is MDC Systems’ UAS Operator and will be obtaining the remote pilot certificate as soon as the FAA’s new small UAS rule takes effect.
Contact Mr. Capone:
610-640-9600, x10 or