The National Research Council released a 92-page report today that explains the barriers to everyday use across various sectors. As drone advocates call for their use in the film industry, crop dusting, and same day delivery from Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN) amongst other uses, they still must share the sky with airliners and potentially come with myriad dangers.
The benefits of a drone
“There is little doubt that over the long run the potential benefits of advanced unmanned aircraft and other increasingly autonomous systems to civil aviation will indeed be great, but there should be equally little doubt that getting there while maintaining the safety and efficiency of the nation’s civil aviation system will be no easy matter,” said John-Paul Clarke, an associate professor of aerospace engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology who co-chaired the committee that wrote the report.
The Federal Aviation Administration has been given a mandate by Congress to ready the skies for unmanned commercial flights by 2015, but today’s report went a long ways to questioning the wisdom of this deadline citing “serious unanswered questions” regarding their use.
Whether a hobby shop quad copter or a valuable multi-engine drone that could help fight forest fires they must still share the skies with existing aircraft and “maintaining or improving the safety and efficiency of the nation’s civil aviation system, will be no easy matter,” according to the report.
“Early adapters sometimes get caught up in the excitement of the moment, producing a form of intellectual hyperinflation that greatly exaggerates the promise of things to come and greatly underestimates costs in terms of money, time, and — in many cases — unintended consequences,” the scientists wrote.
“Unintended consequences” that could include a drone bringing down and airliner over a heavily populated urban population.
The FAA is expected to propose regulations by the end of the year to police unmanned aircraft weighing less that 55 pounds that the film industry and others are tremendously interested in seeing “green-lighted.”
Safety before economic benefits
The mandate from Congress comes, in no small part, from the potential economic impact of drones sharing the sky with the existing aviation industry. The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, an Arlington, Virginia-based trade group, predicts that the industry will create somewhere around 100,000 jobs and an $82 billion addition to the economy within 10 years of allowing drones access to the same airspace that’s presently dominated by cargo and passenger flights.
Today’s report, in no uncertain terms, is recommending the gradual introduction of unmanned flights no matter the potential economic benefit with safety being the primary concern.