Those of us who were able to attend NDPC’s 2015 Spring Conference in Grand Forks, beautifully organized by Northeast District Director Pamela Knudson, came away with a wealth of information covering four divergent topics – all of them attention-getting.
We asked attendees to volunteer to summarize some of the sessions in blog form for those of you who couldn’t attend.
Can you afford not to know about drones?
By FMPC Member Tim Morrissey
The conference’s closing session, “Drones and Communicators,” led by UND associate professor of aviation Joseph Vacek, examined the current regulatory and legal environment surrounding the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs or “Drones”) for various applications.
North Dakota is one of a small handful of states approved to conduct drone research and to ultimately help set U.S. public policy on their use, so Vacek — also an attorney and a professional pilot — was able to provide us with up-to-the-minute information on current usage and on the ways in which these machines may become part of our daily lives in the future. His presentation generated many in-session questions and debates, bringing energy to the end of our day.
Communications and many other commercial applications, he stated, are limited under the current set of Federal Aviation Administration policies. Because the existing set of rules are designed around military applications, permits must be obtained from the government — even by law enforcement agencies — in order to legally operate a drone. Current applications in the U.S. are primarily federal, and comprise military training, weather and land monitoring, infrastructure (bridge) inspection, border patrol, and law enforcement support.
As one of the United States’ thought leaders on understanding drones’ implications and uses, Vacek stated that we can expect changes in the very near future. The FAA will begin to open up U.S. airspace to private companies and commercial opportunities in the fall of 2015. As regulations are refined by the target date of 2016, the market will expand exponentially to further serve other applications in agriculture, civil engineering and construction, aerial surveys, news gathering, entertainment, and eventually, consumer goods delivery.
Current non-regulatory limitations to drone operation, Vasek said, include battery technology, wind conditions, weight and telemetry.