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The Top 20 Drone Stories of 2018 — Evolving Regulations, Alternative Power Sources, New DJI Drones, Public Safety Adoption, and BVLOS

BY Isabella Lee
2 January 2019

We’re entering the New Year with plenty of hopes and expectations for 2019 when it comes to the drone industry. Primarily, we’re interested in how the FAA will follow up on the many stipulations of the FAA Reauthorization Act passed just a few months ago. We expect new rule making to support an unmanned traffic management system and remote identification will be top priority for the FAA in 2019.

Before we get fully into the new year, we’d like to look back at the top drone stories of 2018. Here are 20 stories that trended in 2018 drone news:

2018 Top Drone Stories

Trending: Airspace Authorization

  • FAA Launches DroneZone Portal – To kick off 2018, the FAA centralized all things drone-related into one system, the FAA DroneZone Portal. The website lets you register your drone, request airspace authorization, and apply for a waiver all in one place.
  • LAANC Finalized – Airspace authorization also became more accessible to professional drone pilots. The FAA completed the final stages of LAANC (Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability) in September. Now, almost 300 air traffic control facilities and approximately 500 airports across the United States participate in the program to enable near real-time processing of airspace authorizations for professional drone operators nationwide.
  • 50,000 Applicants – The FAA announced that since the program began with a prototype system in November 2017, LAANC has processed more than 50,000 applications from drone operators for authorization to fly in controlled airspace. FAA drone registrations also officially exceeded 1 million in 2018.

Trending: Evolving Regulations

  • Reauthorization Passed – In October, the FAA Reauthorization Act—a bill to authorize Federal Aviation Administration programs and funding for five years—was signed into law by President Trump. The Act set deadlines and applied a great deal of pressure on the FAA to proactively develop an unmanned traffic system (UTM), implement a remote identification system, improve the waiver process, and improve the pathway to safely enable ubiquitous UAS delivery operations. While the FAA seems to be in a scramble (still in search of a permanent Administrator) to coordinate these large changes and projects, there is nearly unanimous agreement that it is necessary for these projects to be accomplished if the commercial drone industry is to progress.
  • Pushback from Hobbyists – Not everyone was happy with the FAA Reauthorization Act however. A number of trade organizations spoke up about their dissatisfaction with certain elements. For example, the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) voiced their concerns about the portions of the Act pertaining to the possible repeal of Section 336, which currently sets standards for hobbyist drone pilots.
  • Part 107 Recertification Process Released – In 2018, the two year window on Part 107 certification arrived for those who tested when the FAA first released the Part 107 requirements back in 2016. In May, the FAA finally announced details about the recertification process for U.S. drone pilots looking to maintain their Remote Pilot Certificate.
  • UAS Integration Pilot Program – Ten state and local and governments were selected to conduct flight tests as part of the Department of Transportation’s UAS Integration Pilot Program (IPP). The ten organizations have been testing various types of drone operations currently prohibited by the FAA’s Part 107 rules. Some of the types of flying included in the list for testing are BVLOS flights, drone delivery, night flying, and flying over people. The program is designed to help integrate drones into the national airspace and to help develop Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) in the U.S.

Trending: Alternative Power Sources for Drones

  • Hybrid Drone Breaks World Record – LiPo batteries are the most common power source for drones. However, alternative power sources were taken into consideration by many companies in 2018. For example Quaternium broke the Guinness World Record for longest drone flight with their hybrid drone, HYBRiX.20, a fuel-electric quadcopter powered by a mixture of gas and electricity.
  • A Drone Fueled by Hydrogen – BSHARK put a hydrogen-fueled drone on the commercial drone market in 2018—Narwhal 2. We talk about some of the pros and cons of hydrogen-powered drones here.
  • Micro-drones – Micro and mini drones also made a buzz in 2018. MIT worked on technology to support bee-sized drones, while Stanford researchers worked on a tiny drone that can pull 40 times its weight.

Trending: DJI Mavic Series and Product Releases

Trending: Public Safety Organizations Show Greater Drone Adoption

  • Fighting Fires – Drones aided in many emergency situations in 2018, including the California wildfires. Drones help firefighters collect vital information about ongoing fires, which helps them focus their efforts on where their help is most needed, keep them from harm’s way, and save lives. Here are seven different ways fire departments used drones in 2018.
  • Natural Disaster Relief – Drones were used in recovery efforts after Hurricane Florence and Hurricane Michael devastated the south and southeast. AT&T restored cell and internet service in the areas affected with the Flying Cow drone.
  • Local Law Enforcement – Rutherford County, TN became the first county government to receive a waiver to fly sUAS over people (also known as a 107.39 waiver). The county received permission from the FAA to use the Snap drone, created by Vantage Robotics, for their flights over people. They plan to use the waiver in both emergency and non-emergency scenarios.
  • NYPD Drone Program – The New York Police Department (NYPD) announced its Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) program in December 2018. The Department acquired 14 new drones and brought on licensed NYPD officers to operate them as part of the program.

Trending: Flying Beyond Visual Line of Sight

  • Xcel Energy – Xcel Energy was granted permission from the FAA to conduct regular drone missions beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) in Denver, Colorado. They plan to use their BVLOS permission to conduct routine inspections of their electronic transmission lines.
  • Avitas Systems – GE-owned Avitas Systems received the first ever waiver issued by the FAA to fly a drone heavier than 55 pounds BVLOS (Beyond Visual Line of Sight) for commercial purposes.
  • Zipline – Zipline uses fixed-winged drones to deliver medical supplies in southern Africa. Key to their success has been the deployment of autonomous, beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS) flights with the fastest commercial delivery drone on Earth.
  • BVLOS Waivers – BVLOS flights may become a more regular occurrence in 2019, thanks to the trailblazers who successfully applied for and were issued BVLOS waivers in 2018. There were 17 ‘107.31 – Visual Line of Sight Aircraft Operation’ waivers granted by the FAA in 2018.

We want to know what drone stories you found most interesting in 2018. Whether it was a story shared here on UAV Coach, or something you read elsewhere, let us know in this thread on our community forum. Also, stay up-to-date in 2019 by subscribing to our newsletter (at the bottom of this page) to get weekly drone news sent right to your inbox.

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