Inside Unmanned Systems provides actionable business intelligence to decision-makers and influencers operating within the global UAS community. Features include analysis of key technologies, policy/regulatory developments and new product design.
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6 unmanned systems inside June/July 2016 T he Federal Aviation Administration is in the business of building infrastructure not the business of building industries but if the agency wants to succeed at ensuring the safety of the National Airspace System, it needs to do better by its unmanned entrepreneurs. There have now been more than 5,300 Section 333 exemptions issued. Some firms are doing well but there are a good many that are not. This is not for a lack of potential customers, too little investment or poor attention to regulatory detail. It is because they cannot get a go-ahead to fly while others, competi- tors who don't care about the rules, steal their liveli- hoods with little risk of consequences. By all accounts there are not enough people to process requests for Certificate of Authorization or Section 333 exemptions. "We are experiencing delays in processing peti- tions," the agency admits on its website. "We will do our best to process petitions being posted to the docket as soon as possible, and in the order they were received. We appreciate your patience as we work diligently to process your request." Blame for the backlog problem could quite ap- propriately be laid at the feet of Congress, whose re- cent, well-documented history of inaction extends to handing the FAA new jobs and doing nothing to get them enough money to perform them properly. But a lack of money is not the only problem. While everyone hopes the small UAS rule will ad- dress at least some, if not most, of the immediate backlog, it was clear during the FAA's April sym- posium in Daytona Beach, Fla. that the agency was not prepared to deal realistically with the needs of the small-UAS entrepreneurs. Moreover, agency officials appeared disinclined to change their carefully crafted plans even though, as they admitted, the industry had evolved very different- ly from what they had expected. The priorities and associated research and standards-setting process described during those two days will take years to work through. Maybe it will take five years in- stead of 10 years but it will still be too long for many of the firms at the symposium to survive. If aviation regulators want to establish a cul- ture of safety, the sort of culture it relies on to protect passenger aircraft, it needs to support the entrepreneurs who are trying to follow the rules. Research and a focus on safety need not be aban- doned to accomplish that, but more resources do need to go to the business processes set up to sup- port regular operations under the new small UAS rule. Following regulations should be easy, or at least easy enough that it is the safety-first entre- preneurs who end up forming the foundation of this new industry. Better Support for Law-Abiding Entrepreneurs Means Safer Skies EDITORIAL OPINION Photos courtesy of The University of Michigan, Wikimedia Commons, PrecisionHawk, Exponent Technology Services by Ayhan Kamil and Javier Diez