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Optimism in the Face of Adversity
[ Issue 149 Page 9 ] Friday, November 25, 2016, 15:32:20 Sejoon Huh Assistant Editor sejoonhuh@kaist.ac.kr

     Recognizing the potential danger to safety and security, many countries have already placed a limit on the maximum altitude drones can fly up to and created other regulations to stop any misuse of drones. The FAA has recently approved its final draft of the Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Rule that requires all drones to stay in the visual line-of- sight (VLoS) of the pilot, be inspected preflight, only be in operation during daytime, be lighter than 25 kg and registered if heavier than 250 g, stay under 122 m above ground level unless within 122 m from a structure, and not operate above any person not involved with the operation or near airports and government buildings. The FAA also has additional regulations on operations with commercial drones: a background check on the pilot by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and a remote pilot certificate that can only be obtained after passing a test on aeronautical knowledge. Korea also has similar laws with slight number tweaks, allowing civilian drones to weigh at most 12 kg and stay within 150 m from ground level. The figures in Hong Kong are even stricter, with 7 kg and 91 m being Hong Kong’s official numbers. The list goes on.

     However, responses to these laws have been very polarized; although many experts have praised the FAA for making big steps to accelerate growth by lowering barriers-to-entry, the regulations have also been criticized for being too stringent and going directly against the wishes of civilians and major companies that are looking for shares in the growing drone industry alike. With mandatory registration for aircraft heavier than 250 g, some hobbyists have expressed their concern for less freedom and additional regulations that might be imposed onto their flights. Most of the critiques on the commercial aspect of drones have been aimed at the VLoS clause; they claim that not allowing beyond visual line-of- sight (BVLoS) operations restrict current drone usage to research or photography purposes only, and that it nullifies the very thing drones enable industries to do: making processes more efficient. The hopes of companies such as Amazon, Walmart, Google, and Domino’s that want to home-deliver products with drones have been dashed for now with the VLoS clause. Although the FAA has an online waiver application form for pilots to request exemptions from these rules, most of the waivers have been given to those who want to fly at night, while applications for other waivers, such as exemption from the VLoS clause, are deemed too unsafe.

     Moreover, some countries have been criticized for a seeming contradiction: their strict regulations guarantee neither safety nor economic drive. Korea serves as one of the prime examples for this. Although Korea has several laws in place that are very similar to those set by the FAA, their apathy to enforce those laws have created an unhealthy culture where drone enthusiasts escape to more rural areas to avoid consequences for breaking the laws, or even just disregard them outright; according to Yonhap News, most pilots seen at drone parks that require flight approval from the Korea Aero Models Association (KAMA) do not even ask for permission. Many experts have also condemned the industry’s lack of cooperation with experts in the fields drones can be applied to.

     Nonetheless, pessimism might not be the correct mentality to have towards the current regulations. As an industry that is relatively new, there are bound to be challenges and obstacles it must face as governments around the world attempt to create laws that achieve the perfect balance between safety and economic freedom. There has even been global acclamation for many countries that have relatively liberal regulations. Both Canada and Australia serve as role models by increasing freedom in low- risk operations; commercial drones under two kilograms can be flown without pre-approval or even a license. Many of the FAA’s regulations don’t hold in Finland, one of the most liberal countries on drones: no aerial work certificate is required for any flight (including BVLoS ones), and flights are permitted during nighttime and over people without pre-approval.

     And even those with strict regulations are always aiming to improve and change their laws. FAA Administrator Michael Huerta has stated that a draft is under construction for easing laws on BVLoS flights and over-people flights. President Park Geun-Hye has also vowed to invest into the private sector of the drone industry for the next three years, citing data comparing Korea’s relatively delayed progress to China’s, and incentivize more interest in drones by promoting recreational usage; Korea has recently opened up the Hangang Drone Park, which allows drone flying even without the approval of KAMA, and is also the host of the GiGA Drone Racing World Masters, a drone racing competition.

     The drone has come a long way from being a primitive weapon; it is now a tool for potentially unlimited applications. However, one thing that has not changed since its creation is its existence as a double-edged sword, and this characteristic of this modern innovation is the reason why the world has to be careful with the utility it provides. Although we do not know what the future holds in store for us, we must be ever vigilant and strive for regulations that preserve the fundamentals: safety, privacy, and bettering the world.

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