Photo: Jacquelyn Martin, AP
This afternoon 3DR CRO Colin Guinn testified at a hearing held by the House of Representatives’ Science, Space and Technology Committee, laying out a strategy for the rapid integration of small drones into the National Airspace. During Colin’s testimony an actual drone flight was demonstrated inside the hearing room, presumably the first ever inside the Capitol. Welcome to the future, America.
The thrust of Colin’s argument was that small drones are a perfect regulatory compromise: “By integrating the smallest, lightest weight drones, we’re advocating a proportional, risk-based system for regulation.”
In other words, small drones (under 2 kg) don’t pose a serious public safety hazard. In fact, drones in this class weigh much less than a frozen turkey, which airlines use as the standard to test an aircraft’s ability to take a bird strike. Relegating these small drones to a few test sites or to certified pilots won’t achieve much, in terms of public safety, yes, but also in terms of enabling research and development. However, opening the National Airspace to small commercial drones would deliver untold benefits for the economy, operational safety and commercial innovation, with minimal risk. Equally importantly, this would also create an enormous virtual R&D lab for the crafting of future legislation. On the FAA’s side they’d be able to gather data from thousands and thousands of flight hours, then use that data to better inform their decisions about the eventual integration of larger and truly dangerous drones and the regulation thereof. On the industry side, companies developing drone technology, like Amazon for instance, could use small drones for research today, then apply what they learn in the interim to make their large craft all the more safe and capable when it comes time to meet the FAA down the road.
Or as Colin so inimitably posed it, “How do we bridge that gap between the chicken and the egg?”