The State of Drone Regulations: A Look at the Last Year
BY Zacc Dukowitz15 June 2017
In anticipation of our webinar next Tuesday with Real Tour Vision entitled The State of Drone Regulations & Real Estate Marketing in 2017 we’re publishing a short series of articles that will look at how far we’ve come in the drone industry over the last year, and where we’re going next.
Today’s post will look back at everything that’s happened in the world of drone regulations over the last year, and the next post, which will come out on Monday, will look forward at all we can hope to see in the next year and beyond.
Finally, we plan to publish an article after the webinar to address questions that come up during the presentation, and that will look at real-life scenarios that commercial pilots in real estate and other sectors face on a daily basis.
Sign up for the free webinar now: The State of Drone Regulations & Real Estate Marketing in 2017.
The Last Year in Drone Regulations
The last year has been nothing short of incredible for the drone industry.
In the U.S. we saw the rollout of the FAA’s Part 107 requirements, a development which has led to huge growth in the number of licensed commercial pilots, and which (thankfully) replaced the antiquated 333 Exemption process.
We’ve seen the FAA growing its partnerships with private industries through the Pathfinder Program and the LAANC to conduct UAV-focused research, with the ultimate goal of opening up the regulatory scene for types of flying that are currently prohibited (like Beyond Visual Line Of Sight flights, flying over people, and flying at night), as well as streamlining airspace authorization requests and waiver submissions.
Internationally we’ve seen huge strides made in drone laws, with Denmark and New Zealand announcing permanent BVLOS permissions for private companies and dozens of countries launching or beefing up their drone regulations, with the goal of professionalizing this burgeoning industry.
Let’s take it from the top.
The Launch of the Part 107 Exam
Almost exactly one year ago, on June 21, 2016, the FAA released its highly anticipated rules governing the operation of small UAS for commercial purposes. The rules went into effect two months later, on August 29.
The rules required that commercial UAV pilots pass a test entitled the Aeronautical Knowledge Test for a Remote Pilot Certificate (or the Part 107 exam) in order to be certified to fly commercially.
The June release was a huge step forward for the industry. Commercial pilots no longer had to endure the months-long wait and potentially high costs previously associated with pursuing a 333 exemption.
Now, they simply had to pass a test. Talk about streamlined.
Part 107 Stats
In the first 15 days after the Part 107 exam was implemented, 5,124 pilots took the test, and 4,503 passed.
Two months later those numbers had almost doubled, to 9,796 having taken the test, and 8,649 having passed (as of October 14, 2016).
Fast forward to the present (well to March, the most current date we have data for). As of March 21, 2017 there have been a whopping 37,579 licenses issued by the FAA, and that number has surely grown in the last three months.
Using the March number, we know that there have been about 1,565 pilots passing the test every week since it went live, or about 223 pilots passing every single day. That’s a lot of drone pilots.
We also know that there are about 800,000 hobbyists who have registered with the FAA as of March 27, 2017, which is a little under double the number we saw at this time last year, when there were about 460,000 drone owners registered. (To clarify, 800,000 is the total of all registered drone owners, not new owners since June, 2016.)
FAA Partnerships—the Pathfinder Program and LAANC
In the last year, the FAA’s Pathfinder Program launched its Drone Detection Initiative (actually it was launched in May of 2016, but we figure it’s close enough!).
This initiative is a partnership between the FAA and Gryphon Sensors, Liteye Systems Inc. and Sensofusion with the goal of aggressively pursuing technology and strategic planning around how to identify and control rogue drones, whether they be accidentally or intentionally present in controlled airspace.
Since then, Gryphon Sensors released their Mobile Skylight Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) system at AUVSI XPONENTIAL, a system for detecting and managing drones that will help keep our skies safer. Many tests and lots of research have been done to build UTMs over the last year, including work being done by NASA, and we know that the outcome of all this work will be safer skies, and a more organized system for flying drones commercially.
In addition to the Pathfinder Program, the FAA recently launched the Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC) system, a partnership with private companies that has as one of its primary goals the automation of granting waivers and permits to commercial drone operators seeking to fly in controlled airspace.
Now that is an exciting idea. Check out how the LAANC is actually pursuing this goal in the section below.
Improvements in the Airspace Authorization Request Process
The FAA recently released the first round of UAS Facility Maps, which show commercial pilots the information used to determine whether an airspace authorization request gets approved or denied.
The release of these maps is a huge step forward for the airspace authorization process, and the first (and we should add a quick) win from the LAANC when it comes to moving toward a fully automated system for granting waivers, permits, and authorization.
By using these maps, pilots can immediately see if the area where they want to fly will be granted authorization. The guesswork is removed, adding more certainty not just to the authorization process, but to the industry as a whole. This is a huge step forward for the industry, and one to applaud as we look back at the last year.
Now all we need is a process to streamline applying for waivers to fly over people and other types of flights prohibited by Part 107 . . .
When it comes to international drone regulations there have been so many changes and updates, and so much positive growth, that we could devote a series just to discussing them.
For now, we’d suggest checking out our in-depth BVLOS article, which highlights new BVLOS regulations in 13 countries. (Denmark and New Zealand are at the cutting edge, as we noted above, but there are many other countries hot on their heels when it comes to opening up the skies to types of flying that were previously prohibited.)
We think BVLOS waivers are a bellwether for how progressive a country is when it comes to drone regulations, and how organized and intentional they are about supporting the growth of the industry. Of course, they’re also an indicator of the country’s size—for a country the size of Denmark, sorting out regulations is just a different animal than it is for a country the size of the U.S. or Canada.
What an amazing year it’s been for drone regulations. Don’t forget to check in on Monday to read about where we’re headed next.
Also—don’t forget to sign up for our webinar next Tuesday with Real Tour Vision: The State of Drone Regulations & Real Estate Marketing in 2017.