On November 7, the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) released its first annual Roadmap detailing the steps needed to integrate unmanned aircraft systems (more commonly known as drones) into the national airspace. The Roadmap was required by the 2012 FAA Modernization and Reform Act and it sets the stage for law enforcement agencies, businesses, universities, and hobbyists to use drones by 2015. On the same day, the Joint Planning and Development Office (a group of 6 agencies plus the White House) released a Comprehensive Drone Plan.
Since the early 1990s, drones have operated on a limited basis in the U.S. Until recently, drones were used mainly to support military and border security operations. However, over the past few years as the technology has improved, the potential uses for drones have grown exponentially, with companies focusing on a broad range of activities including surveying land and crops, aerial photography, monitoring environmental concerns, communications and broadcast, and protecting critical infrastructure.
In recognition of the potential benefits to using drones in these new ways, the Roadmap outlines the tasks and considerations necessary to enable drone integration into the national airspace over the next 5-10 years. Specifically, this includes the FAA’s plans for ensuring that drone use is safe, and establishes requirements for accommodation, integration, and evolution. The FAA will select 6 test sites to begin work on safely integrating drones, and to research the applicable certification and navigation requirements. Manufacturers will be able to bring drones to the test sites for evaluation by federal safety experts, and the results will in turn assist regulators as they draft more refined rules. The FAA has estimated that 7,500 small drones could be dispatched in the United States within 5 years if the regulations are written on schedule.