Drone News Roundup: Bill Proposes Transfer of NAS Control to Local Authorities, MI5 Drone Research Leaked, and More!

BY Zacc Dukowitz
12 March 2021

This week we’re covering a new bill called the Drone Integration and Zoning Act that proposes transferring the authority for airspace regulations from the FAA to local authorities.

We’re also covering a secret drone research project backed by the MI5 that was accidentally leaked, a story about the police capturing a wanted man in Montana with the help of a drone, a recent report that looks at whether U.S. bans on Chinese drones have impacted DJI’s market share, and Zipline’s launch of vaccine drone delivery services in Ghana.

Now onward to the links!

New Bill Proposes Giving State and Local Authorities Power to Regulate the NAS

Image source

A new bill called the Drone Integration and Zoning Act has been introduced to congress by Senator Mike Lee (R-UT). The bill proposes transferring authority for controlling the airspace below 200 feet to local authorities, including state, city, and Native American tribes. The FAA would retain control over airspace from 200 to 400 feet. If passed, the bill would effectively create a hodgepodge of drone legislation in the country, requiring commercial drone pilots to become experts not just on federal laws but on all the local laws that might be enacted in a given area. Senator Lee backed a similar bill in 2017 called the Drone Federalism Act (also known as the Feinstein Drone Act), which ultimately failed.


MI5 Drone Project Revealed in Accidental Leak

Image source

A mistake in an academic report recently revealed that the U.K.’s intelligence agency MI5 has secretly been backing research into using drones to remotely charge bugs (i.e., covert surveillance devices). Getting bugs into place is hard, but keeping them charged can be just as difficult, if not more so. MI5 was looking for a way to address this problem by flying a drone in the vicinity where the bug had been placed. On its surface, the goal of the project was to use drones to remotely charge agricultural sensors. Although MI5 moved quickly to remove the leak of its involvement in the university report, U.K.-based news outlet The Guardian got word before that could be done and managed to break the story.


Drone Helps Police Capture Wanted Man in Montana

Drones help capture wanted man in Montana

A man fleeing authorities in Montana was recently captured with the help of a drone. Law enforcement tried to stop him in the parking lot of a hotel, at which point he fled in his vehicle and was pursued on rural, snow-covered roads. Once he gained a lead on the officers, the suspect used a chainsaw to place a tree across his path in order to delay them. A helicopter assisted in the chase, but it was ultimately a drone that helped find the man. But just barely—officers only had three batteries on hand, and the third battery was almost dead when they finally captured him. The man was wanted for trafficking methamphetamines.


Has the U.S. Ban on Chinese Drones Hurt DJI?

Photo credit: DroneII

Some serious actions have been taken by the U.S. government against Chinese drone companies over the last few months, and specifically against DJI. In January of last year, DJI was placed on the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Entity List, and a last-minute executive order banned the federal purchase of drones from any “adversary country,” including China. Before that, the Pentagon’s release of its approved list of Blue UAS outlined the drones recommended for use by government entities, making it clear that the U.S. government was making big moves to get away from its reliance on foreign drone technology.

So how much of an impact has all of this had on DJI’s market share? Not as much as you might think, according to a new report from Drone Industry Insights (DroneII). According to DroneII’s research, DJI’s stranglehold on the drone market is still quite strong. Read the full report from DroneII for all its findings on how the ban has impacted DJI.


Zipline Starts COVID-19 Vaccine Delivery by Drone in Ghana

Photo credit: Zipline

Just last month we reported on Zipline’s development of cold chain distribution capabilities to get the COVID-19 vaccine out by drone, as well as a deal in Nigeria for distributing the vaccine by drone (along with other medical supplies). This week, Zipline announced that it has launched vaccine drone deliveries in Ghana, making the country the very first to implement national drone delivery for vaccine distribution. As of February 23, Bill Gates-backed COVAX had shipped 600,000 vaccine doses to Ghana, many of which will reach their ultimate destination by drone.


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