Oct. 24, 2018

The implementation of FAR Part 107 opened the door to a variety of mainstream commercial unmanned aircraft systems operations. As flight departments seek authorization for increasingly complex missions, questions on the regulatory endgame for this paradigm-shifting technology arise.

“We all understand that drones are part of the aviation industry. We need to understand how this is going to transform the industry,” said Brad Hayden, president and CEO of Robotic Skies. “This is going to impact our careers, our businesses and, of course, our airspace.”

Panelists representing manufacturers and UAS-integrated flight departments discussed the potential for unmanned operations within business aviation, and how the drone revolution will impact the National Airspace System, at the “UAS: The Future is Now” education session during NBAA’s Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition (NBAA-BACE).

UAS has a number of potential applications across industries that would increase efficiency and productivity including infrastructure inspection and mapping, post-disaster damage assessment, videography and photography for marketing, package delivery and urban mobility to bring relief to cities around the world.

James Jinks, director of aviation services at Verizon, emphasized the importance of encouraging innovation while operating within the specified regulations, “I’ve been very careful not to stifle innovation, while at the same time providing the oversight to ensure we are compliant with all regulations and safety requirements.”

While the future of business aviation is coming faster than previously imagined, also in focus in the UAS conversation is safety. “There’s been a definite generational shift in trusting technology over humans,” said Hayden, but there are still concerns that are being researched.

“Aviation is now interacting with the public in ways we never have before. It brings up a lot of safety concerns that need to be addressed,” said Mark Blanks, director of the Virginia Tech Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership. “As a test site director, we see the good and the bad, and the perceived benefits are already being seen.”

UAS as it applies to urban mobility is gaining traction. With nearly 25 percent of global commute times exceeding 90 minutes, new solutions are needed to relieve traffic and transportation congestion in urban areas. Cargo and passenger air vehicle prototypes are being designed, but won’t be introduced until they have been thoroughly tested and proven to be safe for public use.

“The things we talked about five years ago are actually coming to pass. We are no longer a science-project industry anymore, we’re serious business partners. This industry really needs your help now. It’s now time to move to the next level,” said Paul McDuffee, business development executive for Boeing Horizon X. “We still have a number of challenges out there to work through that the industry is actively engaged in tackling”

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