August 6, 2015 – Wilmington, NC – webworks89 looks into the expansion of commercial drone use in North Carolina, and how the resistance it faces can be a benefit and a detriment.
When the Wright Brother’s first took flight off the Outer Banks of North Carolina, many were skeptical of their accomplishment. At the time there was no precedent for a successfully powered flight and people were hesitant to accept that. Ascend a century forward to the expansion of drone technology, and these same sentiments of resistance can be found among the public. Drones or, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), are piloted by built-in computer programs through the control of an on-ground pilot. With a growing infatuation, the public appears to be divided between a sense of fear and intrigue with the recent rise in UAV popularity. Currently there is a lack of federal legal precedent for commercial drone use. This leaves each state the responsibility of forming their own state laws to regulate drone operations within their borders.
North Carolina is the leading producer of tobacco and places a heavy emphasis on many other cash crops. With the vast amounts of agriculture that stretch across the state, drones could be a huge benefit to our farmers. This technology can provide an aerial view making it easier to monitor crops in real-time and address problems swiftly. Measure, a UAV company, has teamed up with PrecisionHawk and the American Farm Bureau to conduct a study over cornfields in Raleigh, NC. This study is geared towards return-on-investment to determine how cost-effect these drones can be. Lia Reich, communications director at PrecisionHawk, said that their services should save farmers an estimated 20 percent on fertilizer and pesticides while simultaneously increase the amount of crop output.
These drones can cater to a wide variety of other commercial industries. According to CEA projections, consumer UAVs will near $130 million in revenue globally in 2015, a 50 percent increase from 2014. Amazon and Google are looking to become pioneers in the delivery service by utilizing UAVs. Amazon has already begun testing their drone services in other countries, many of which have progressive UAV legislation policies. Amazon has been stressing the impact UAVs can have on businesses and the high-quality jobs they could create. An article written by the Pinpoint Resource Group states, “The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International forecasts that the drone industry will create more than 100,000 new drone jobs and $82 billion in economic impact within the first 10 years they become legal to fly”
With advantages like these, why is there such a resistance facing UAV expansion throughout the Tarheel state? Most of the fear lies within drone operation in denser communities. North Carolina may have a lot of farm land, but it also has a growing population in developing urban areas. With a higher risk of person and property damage, the FAA released guidelines stating: A drone can only weigh up to 55 pounds, the drone must be within visual line of sight (VLOS) of the operator, the drone must remain clear of other aircraft’s, stadiums and is not permitted to fly over any other unauthorized person(s) or properties. UAVs should fly no higher than 500 feet, no faster than 100 miles per hour and must be operated during daytime hours. Operators must submit to section 333 Federal Exemption approval, where their petition for UAV commercial use will be heard by the FAA. Here pilots must prove that they have an understanding of how to operate and maintain their machine safely while proving they have a beneficial reason to use it commercially. Many of these guidelines are still vague and don’t cover the full-spectrum of UAV policy.
New legislation is being proposed in 2016 to further regulate this industry and lay out guidelines for commercial use. Concerns have been raised of government agencies utilizing UAV technology to monitor surveillance on citizens, violating their fourth amendment rights. Under this proposal, state and local law enforcement agencies can conduct drone surveillance if they get a warrant. Any footage shot without a warrant is not admissible in court. Police have the right to use drones to counter terrorist attacks and pursue escaping suspects. Despite these guidelines, North Carolina citizens are likely remain weary of government use until strict laws have been set in place that identify these boundaries concretely.
North Carolina will not likely be the First in Flight on leading UAV commercialization, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. With UAV technology still in its infancy, tweaks and adjustments will continually be made across the board. Hectic air traffic and a large scale population make a slower integration the best solution for the general public. In the meantime, it is imperative that states closely regulate commercial use to take full advantage of UAVs so as the industry takes flight, they can avoid delays.