U.S. Transportation Secretary Chao Talks Drones at CES

U.S. Transportation Secretary Chao Talks Drones at CES

In her keynote address to the packed audience of the Consumer Electronics Show this month, U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao highlighted the need for increased safety and security legislation on the currently unregulated drone industry, specifically calling attention to the new proposed Remote ID (RID) laws. These laws open the door for U.S. manufacturers by implementing standardized procedures for bringing drones to market, and will keep the skies both safe and secure for enthusiasts and the public at large. Chao pointed to the recent reports of mystery nighttime drone sightings over Colorado and Nebraska as an example of the pressing need for greater drone registration and regulation, calling them “a timely demonstration of why remote IDs are needed.”

According to Secretary Chao, there are currently around 1.5 million drones in the skies, and over 160,000 remote pilots registered with the FAA. The drone space has exploded over the last few years, and legislation has struggled to keep up, leading to gaps in regulation and safety concerns over skies crowding with unregistered drones. The potential ramifications of an unregulated sky could include interference with emergency services and their deployment,

safety concerns regarding drone use and the operation of passenger planes, as well as the greater security and privacy concerns with unregistered drones trespassing over private property. The potential for misuse of drone technology is far too great for the industry to avoid regulation, and allowing unidentified unmanned systems to operate carte blanche over American skies is irresponsible and dangerous.

The Transportation Department’s Remote ID law proposal attempt to address this problem, by “enhancing safety and security by allowing FAA, law enforcement, and federal security agencies to identify drones flying in their jurisdiction.” Secretary Chao also detailed proposed initiatives to allow drone testing in a variety of environments, advance drone airspace management, and to further develop the framework for remote drone identification. These initiatives would lead to greater safety for both drone pilots and the public, and the proposed regulations on airspace management will lead to greater opportunities for manufacturers. Currently, the National Airspace System (NAS) poses a great challenge for companies interested in adopting drone technology, due to conflicting or vague regulations. These companies that would otherwise implement UAV technology to expedite their processes have been held back because they simply aren’t sure if they can legally operate drones in the capacities that their business demands. Organizing and advancing airspace management would remove this bottleneck, and the drone industry as a whole would be able to advance.

One doesn’t have to look very hard to see the potential consequences of an unregulated sky. In 2018, Gatwick airport in London was forced to cancel roughly 1,000 flights due to rogue drone sightings near the runways over the course of a three day disruption. This interference resulted in losses to the airport of $64.5 million, and stranded thousands of passengers. The ultimate culprit of the events was not found. Instituting mandatory remote ID registration would have solved this problem much quicker, and saved millions of dollars while helping to identify the perpetrator. The potential impact a rogue drone pilot can have in impeding the day-to-day operations of businesses and public agencies is immense, thus making RID increasingly necessary for keeping the public safe.

More stringent flight regulations and drone registration are key to preventing similar situations in the United States. Moreover, RID is a good first step to convincing the public that drones can not only be used to provide massive cost savings and increased efficiency (while creating new jobs) but that they can be used in a safe and responsible manner. This is important especially as the public’s concerns regarding data security and privacy continue to mount, sentiments that must be addressed in order for greater acceptance of drones in everyday life. This emphasis on accountability and security will also lead to the increased implementation of UAV technology by government services, greatly expanding the unmanned market and allowing for increased efficiency and the discovery of innovative solutions to issues facing the public. Government contracts are a huge opportunity for U.S. based drone manufacturers like Inspired Flight, and open the door to larger partnerships in the future.

Secretary Chao’s case for remote ID and increased security telegraphs a greater shift by the U.S. Department of Transportation towards stricter guidelines for drone use. These proposed initiatives will greatly benefit American drone manufacturers like Inspired Flight by giving them greater access to government contracts and by softening the public concerns regarding drones as a whole. A more standardized set of regulations on when and where drones are able to be utilized will also convince more and more companies to implement unmanned technology into their processes, without being dissuaded by unclear usage policies. These regulations will allow for increased applications for drones, and increased revenues for drone manufacturers. Her emphasis on first creating accountability was clear however: the skies are opening up for greater drone implementation, but first, they need to be cleared for take-off.