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The Top Drone Stories of 2019 — New Drones, Shifting Regulations, Industry Firsts, and Drone Delivery

BY Isabella Lee
26 December 2019

Looking back on the year, as we prepare to head into 2020, a transitionary period seems to be approaching for the drone industry.

Aviation bodies, governments, legislators, and drone stakeholders have been working together to form a regulatory landscape that will support continued innovation throughout the next decade. Earlier this year, we took a look at the progress made by the UAS Integration Pilot Program (IPP). Yet, there is still a considerable amount of work to be done as we await the implementation of remote ID and the development of an unmanned air traffic management system.

It’s no secret that there is still tension on the regulatory front, not only in the U.S., but in other countries striving to embrace drone technology as well. Such as the pushback against the U.K.’s new registration requirement and the many countries that still ban drones altogether.

Before we enter into the new year, let’s look back on some of the top drone stories of 2019.

Top Drone Stories 2019

The Skydio 2 was one of the biggest drone launches of 2019. Image Source: Skydio

The FAA Introduces New Regulations For Hobbyists

  • Testing, Testing…1,2,3 – New rules for recreational drone pilots were published to the Federal Register in May 2019. Recreational pilots are now required to pass a knowledge test and carry proof of passage while flying. That test is still in development, and the details of what it will contain have not yet been publicly shared. UAV Coach was selected to help the FAA develop the test administration process in December 2019.
  • It’s (Not) Just About Having Fun – Drone flying is a fun hobby, but safety is the first priority when you’re sharing the skies with commercial and manned aircraft. Perhaps the most significant change for recreational pilots in 2019 was the abolishment of the 5-mile rule. The FAA expanded LAANC access to recreational drone pilots, who can now request instant airspace authorization to fly in controlled airspace near airports.

Irresponsible Drone Pilots Get Caught and Fined

  • Drone Pilot Fined $20,000 (U.S.) – The FAA fined a drone pilot $20,000 for multiple violations, including imposing a hazard to other aircraft when his flyaway DJI Phantom 3 drone landed at McCarran Airport in Las Vegas, NV. This isn’t the only way the FAA cracked down in 2019. The agency also increased surveillance in areas where drone incidents had been reported.
  • Drone Pilot Arrested for Flying Drone off Severn Bridge (U.K.) – Police closed Severn Bridge (a crossing between Wales and England) when a man was spotted climbing the bridge tower and flying a drone off it. The arrest was on account of causing a public nuisance. The incident occurred just 11 days after two arrests were made in connection with the closure of Gatwick Airport after authorities spotted two rogue drones flying nearby.

DJI Rumors Have Everyone Talking

  • DJI Phantom 4 Goes Ghost – DJI stopped production of the Phantom 4 Pro and the Phantom 4 Pro V2.0 remained out of stock for the majority of 2019. This sparked rumors of a Phantom 5 release, but this never came to fruition. Now, rumor has it that the Phantom 4 Pro V2.0 will be back in stock in early 2020.
  • DJI’s Big Release is Actually Mini – DJI released a super small drone called the Mavic Mini that many believed was strategically designed to fall outside the FAA’s requirements to register any recreational drone weighing 250 grams (o.55 lbs) or more. Weighing just 249 grams (about half a pound), the DJI Mavic Mini can be flown recreationally without the need to register it with the FAA.

American Drone Manufacturers Make Headway

  • Sold Out Skydio 2 – The new drone from American drone manufacturer, Skydio, was a huge hit in 2019. In fact, it was so popular that the manufacturers had trouble keeping up with the demand. The first production batch sold out in a single day, and the company is taking pre-orders for its second batch.
  • Flirtey Eagle – Reno, Nevada based drone company, Flirtey, created a drone delivery system called the Flirtey Eagle that can transport emergency medical supplies (AEDs specifically) in minutes to those in need. The FAA approved Flirtey to conduct BVLOS (beyond visual line of sight) drone delivery flights in the city of Reno, NV.
  • Doing the Impossible US-1 – Silicon Valley startup, Impossible Aerospace, launched the Impossible US-1 with a record-breaking 90-minute battery life. The Impossible US-1 was designed to support public safety applications and its ability to stay in the air for a long period of time was put on dramatic display during a police standoff at a Denny’s in Campbell, California.

BVLOS, Night Flying, and Operations Over People Move Into Reach

  • The Biggest Regulatory Notice of 2019 – The FAA shared a Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) proposing to make operations over people and at night legal, under certain circumstances, without a waiver. These new rules were only issued as a draft, and have not been finalized by the FAA.
  • New York BVLOS Corridor – The New York Governor announced the completion of the state-supported, 50-mile Unmanned Aircraft System Corridor, after three years of development and a $30 million state investment. The corridor runs from Central New York to the Mohawk Valley and is the most advanced drone testing corridor in the U.S.
  • Like a Good Neighbor… – The FAA issued the first national waiver ever to State Farm for drone operations over people and BVLOS (beyond visual line of sight) to conduct UAV missions for damage assessment. The waiver can be used anywhere in the U.S., and is good until November of 2022.
  • Parachutes Aren’t Just For People – The number of waivers approved for operations over people grew tremendously in 2019, largely in part to the increasing popularity of drone parachutes. Drone parachute company, ParaZero, celebrated 40 approved waivers for flights over people.

Drones Are Used For Good

  • Boy Gone Missing – On a cold fall evening, Minnesota police began a search and rescue mission for a 6-year-old boy named Ethan who went missing after he got off the school bus and ran off to play with the family dog. Steve Fines, a member of the community who volunteered to assist with the search, used his drone with heat-seeking technology to find Ethan and his dog at about 1:50 a.m. in a cornfield a little more than a mile east of his home.
  • A long hike – A search and rescue team in Snowy Canyon State Park, Utah used a drone to help rescue a hiker trapped on a ledge at night. The trapped hiker was 60 years old. Search and rescue first found out that he was trapped from other hikers who had heard the man calling out for help from the ledge where he was trapped.

Drone Delivery Projects Take Place Across the World

  • Giving Blood – Zipline is best known for its extensive medical drone delivery networks in Rwanda and Ghana, which are used to deliver blood, vaccines, and other important medical supplies to people living in remote areas. In 2019, the company launched the biggest drone delivery network in the world and raised an impressive $190 million in funding.
  • Just Wing It – Google’s drone project, Wing, kicked off its drone delivery pilot program in Virginia. As part of the pilot, Wing partnered with Walgreens, FedEx, and Sugar Magnolia—a local gift purveyor—to deliver food, over-the-counter healthcare products, and small gift items in the town of Christianburg, VA.
  • United Parcel Service – The FAA granted the broadest approval for drone delivery they have ever issued to Flight Forward, a subsidiary of the United Parcel Service (UPS). Google’s Wing was the first drone company to receive a Part 135 certification back in April 2019. However, Wing’s certification was limited in scope. Wing can only work with a single pilot, while Flight Forward can launch a fleet of drones or several fleets.
  • Delivery Drone Crash – Since 2017, the Swiss Post and Matternet had been working in partnership to test drone deliveries. The pilot program seemed to be going well with over 3,000 successful deliveries. But, in 2019 the Swiss Post suspended the program indefinitely after two crashes. Matternet responded by making several safety improvements to its drones, but Swiss Post has not yet reinstated the program.

What events in 2019 did you find the most impactful on the drone industry? Whether it was something you read here on UAV Coach, or something you read elsewhere, let us know on our community forum. Also, stay up-to-date in 2020 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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