Recent research from the Mercatus Center shows that drone highways overlying existing public roads could be the fastest way to fully integrate commercial drones.
Mercatus Center research, authored by Harvard University JD student Brent Skorup and Connor Haaland, assesses the 50 states in terms of drone industry readiness. The researchers cite considerable “ambiguities in the roles of the federal and state governments with regard to airspace management for drones” as a major obstacle to readiness. However, the researchers see a solution: an agreement between the federal and state governments to implement “drone highways” over existing public roads.
Drone technology has made great strides: autonomy, safety, reliability and robustness have all improved. The rules for drones have also evolved: long-distance ID cards, night flights and flights over people and vehicles have been regulated. Before commercial drones can be fully integrated into the airspace via municipalities, however, the frequently discussed gray areas of public airspace about private property must be clarified. The Mercatus report ranks the 50 states for commercial drone readiness based on the following criteria:
Airspace Lease Act (30 points): Drone highways must be demarcated by regulators and securely separated from airports, houses, schools and other sensitive places. Leasing airspace over public property would expedite drone service as creating air routes over backyards and private land poses problems in taking over private property.
Law on the exercise of air rights for landowners (10 points): This makes it clear that the state exercises its police powers and defines property rights – and makes drone operators and residents aware of the scope of these rights. If state or local authorities have public rights of way, air rights laws recognize their ownership interest in the air corridors over public roads.
Aviation Facilitation Act (25 points): This allows drones to operate as long as they are high enough not to disturb landowners and passers-by. Generally, if the state or municipality does not have air corridors over public roads, drones can still access air forces when state officials demarcate drone highways over public roads.
Drone Task Force or Program Office (20 points): These posts help anticipate (and address) issues such as zone rules, noise limits, time of day restrictions, insurance, and privacy protection for private homes.
Estimation of drone jobs (15 points): The number of drone jobs per 100,000 population is an indicator of soft factors (e.g. a college offering drone programs or workers in the aerospace industry) that states can position for future growth in jobs and services.
From these, Skorup and Haaland determine that states with exceptional drone rules are North Dakota, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Nevada, and Virginia. The states with the greatest need for improvement are Nebraska, Rhode Island, Iowa, Mississippi, and Kentucky.
While this would not solve all problems, enabling drones to fly over public drones could make it easier for commercial drone operations to quickly and easily find clarity about where flight is allowed and where not.
Miriam McNabb is editor-in-chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a marketplace for professional drone services, and a fascinating observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has written over 3,000 articles focusing on the commercial drone space and is an international speaker and recognized figure in the industry. Miriam graduated from the University of Chicago and has over 20 years experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
For advice or writing on the drone industry, email Miriam.
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