My Thoughts on Technology and Jamaica: FAA ok’s Drones for Hobbyist – Study to determine Commercial Drone Risk as Amazon, UPS and FedEx Drones get the Kibosh until 2015

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

FAA ok’s Drones for Hobbyist – Study to determine Commercial Drone Risk as Amazon, UPS and FedEx Drones get the Kibosh until 2015

“This new solution is now helping BP manage its extensive Prudhoe Bay field operations in a way that enhances safety, protects the environment, improves productivity and accomplishes activities never before possible. This is an important achievement for our joint team and for the industry in demonstrating the safe and effective use of our proven UAS [unmanned aircraft system] technology for commercial applications”

AeroVironment chairman and CEO Tim Conver said in on the AeroVironment Puma Drone contracted from them by BP

Commercial Drone usage, at least in the United States of America, is set to get a boost.

This as the FAA (Federal Aviation Authority) have recently granted the first commercial use of a Drone over land on Tuesday June 10th 2014 as reported in “FAA approves first commercial use of Drones over land”, published June 10, 2014 6:58 PM PDT by Dara Kerr, CNET News.

On that same date, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx was upbeat, suggesting that Commercial Drone Flights were around the corner, quote: “These surveys on Alaska's North Slope are another important step toward broader commercial use of unmanned aircraft. The technology is quickly changing, and the opportunities are growing”.

They granted permission to BP (British Petroleum) to use a Drone made by Drone maker AeroVironment to fly unmanned Drones over the Prudhoe Bay in Alaska. This is one of the largest Oilfield in the region and is a minefield of pipes, roads and other gear, making it  hazard to have humans manually inspect.

The AeroVironment Puma Drone is a hand-launched Drones that does less than 30 mph at low altitude, about 200 to 400 feet. At that height and speed, its package of cameras can slowly map the area in 3D and also record precise position data, making it possible for BP to survey the area and produce detailed 3D maps so that they can keep an eye on their equiptment.

They apparently benefit and the fact that doing otherwise would have presented a safety issue for humans may have been what prompted the FAA to give BP the go-ahead. That and the fact that they're loaded with cash, so it wasn't too hard to bribe them!

Granted, the land area is a desolate wasteland of Oilfields strewn with miles and miles of pipes that's inaccessible to people, a factor in the FAA granting BP to fly the AeroVironment Puma Drone. Some movie studios have also applied and gotten permission to use Drones to shoot parts of their films FAA may let some movie studios use drones for filming”, published June 2, 2014 5:03 PM PDT by Dara Kerr, CNET News.

Again this is also under controlled conditions as a Movie Set will only have the actors and Film crew and won't necessarily endanger regular civilians unless the Movie is being shot in a crowded city.

FAA ok’s Drones for Hobbyist – Amazon, UPS and FedEx Drones get the Kibosh until 2015

So I guess I'm being a bit too overly optimistic, being as crashes and close encounters with Drones are on the rise as this largely unregulated industry blurs the lines between Drones and Recreational Model or Hobby RC Aircraft flying as pointed out in “Close encounters on rise as small drones gain in popularity” Published on June 23, 2014 by Craig Whitlock, Washington Post.

Very much aware of its commercial implications and realizing that they’ve been granting preferential treatment to these big spenders, the FAA have decided to grant a bit of leeway to the Recreational Model or Hobby RC Aircraft peeps as noted in the article “Amazon: Don't worry, our Drones are still preparing for takeoff”, published June 24, 2014 4:33 PM PDT by Donna Tam, CNET News.

Last week, around Tuesday June 24th 2014, the FAA laid down some New Guidelines which basically stated that Drones flown for Recreational purposes are ok. But anything that’s commercial in nature i.e. involving money being paid to deliver goods or messages, will remain effectively banned.

This is in clear contradiction of the case involving Mr. Raphael Pirker aka “Trappy” who challenged the FAA’s ability to regulate Drones, given that the means by which the Drone ban had been enforced was via following proper guidelines. His argument was that it’s seemed odd that Drones, which are very similar to Recreational Model or Hobby RC Aircraft, were deemed illegal if they were being used for commercial purposes.

He took his case to the Supreme Court and NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) Judge Patrick Geraghty ruled in his favour that the FAA has no jurisdiction as it relates specifically to Drones, making their ban unenforceable as concluded in my blog article entitled “NTSB Judge Patrick Geraghty rules Drones for commercial purposes are now free - Forward thinking Black Sheep founder Raphael Pirker leading America towards an Almost Human Future”.

Of course, this was before a NTSB judge; the FAA can easily cite the fact that this ruling applied specifically to the situation and circumstances surrounding Mr. Raphael Pirker, who could be seen as a Contractor for hire doing a specific short-term contract. As such, as the FAA would respect the NTSB ruling.

They’d apply it to cases that are similar, such as the previously mentioned case of BP requiring the contracted services of AeroVironment Puma Drone to inspect their Oil Pipes and those other Movie Studios, also most likely short term contracts done by Drone Contractors.

FAA Study to determine Commercial Drone Risks - Amazon PrimeAir not ready for Prime Time

Full Commercial flights, akin to regularly scheduled Aircraft freight but for packages in the 2 Kg to 10 Kg range, are what the FAA’s New Guidelines are trying to skirt.  This has huge implications for others in the US of A that have plans to use Drones over land such as Amazon as described in my blog article entitled “Amazon plans to launch Amazon PrimeAir, their 30 minute Drone Package Delivery Service for Amazon Prime users - Playing Catch-up as Mailpak launches DealBug in Jamaica”.

Commercial Drone flights depend hugely on the outcome of six (6) studies commissioned back in December 2013 by the FAA into various safety aspects of a Commercial Drone operation as outlined in “FAA picks six projects to tackle Drone technology developement”, published December 30, 2013 9:46 AM PST, by Stephen Shankland, CNET News. These six (6) projects are:

1.      Griffiss International Airport in New York - Investigating technology for the FAA to implement sense-and-avoid technology to reduce Drone-aircraft collisions in the congested airspace of the northeast United States
2.      Texas A&M University- safety requirements for Drones and a Fitness Test to determine airworthiness
3.      The Nevada Project- Focuses on developing Drone standards, Operator and ATC (Air Traffic Control) procedures based on the new GPS Tracking instead of Radar
4.      The North Dakota Department of Commerce  - Drone design airworthiness and communication link reliability.
5.      The University of Alaska Project- Seven test ranges in different climatic zones including Hawaii and Oregon, designed with the intent to develope standards for categorizing, monitoring unmanned aircraft and develope Navigation and Safety standards
6.      Virginia Tech - Investigating the cause of Sudden Drone Failure i.e. phenomenon where Drones just stop working mid-flight

So, for the FAA, this is really one step forward after having taken six-step backward. Drones won’t be able to fly in the US of A commercially until 2015. They can only be flow by Recreational Model or Hobby RC Aircraft persons but without financial gain, based on the FAA’s New Guidelines.

However, the FAA apparently has a soft-spot for contracted professionals wishing to ply their craft, so long as it’s a specific short-term contractual arrangement between themselves and a client, as opposed to being on a continuous basis to non-contracted parties.

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