Ask the Experts

Professors discuss the effects of proposed FAA drone rules

The Federal Aviation Administration has released its proposal for rules that will govern the use of commercial drones.

The proposal, which was announced Sunday Feb. 15, includes regulations such as drones cannot exceed 55 pounds, the user must pass an aeronautics test and the drones must stay in the operator’s line of sight. Experts at Syracuse University said the policy does a good job covering major questions about drone usage, but there are still some gray areas.

Gina Lee-Glauser, vice president of research at SU, said now that there are regulations for commercial usage of drones, they can be used for a variety of activities including building and bridge inspections, sports viewing and repairing power lines.

She said a challenge drones present is that, depending on the experience level of the operator, there may be instances where users will not be able to avoid midair collisions. There are other potential drawbacks as well, she added.

“A negative is privacy. People are worried about it, but I don’t know how much is warranted,” Lee-Glauser said. “There is a lot of things (the U.S. government) is interested in, but the government can get that information without drones.”

Lee-Glauser said she believes the issues of privacy and specific boundaries need to be addressed in the FAA rules for commercial usage of drones. “There are possibilities of commercial applications that we can’t imagine,” she said.

Dan Pacheco, Peter A. Horvitz Endowed Chair in Journalism Innovation, said that as a hobbyist, he has practiced shooting footage with drones. Pacheco occasionally flies drones with the Skyworks Project, an SU student-run drone club, and he has also done noncommercial demonstrations in drone photography and video.

Pacheco said the FAA proposed test that will be needed for commercial use certification is a “really good common sense requirement.” The set of FAA proposed regulations provides the opportunity for professors to use drones without having to define themselves as hobbyists, he added.

Although Pacheco said he is not too concerned about the issue of privacy because “privacy has already been broken,” he said that some sensors placed on the drones should be covered by a privacy policy.

“The data is so rich that it can tell emotions. For that kind of technology, that information should be publicly disclosed,” he said.

Pacheco said the drone industry could lead to new economic development in the central New York region. He added that it could “open up opportunities for experts and companies” to move into the area, which could provide financial help to central New York.

Robert Murrett, deputy director of the Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism, said the two big issues presented with the commercial use of drones are safety and privacy.

“There has been a discussion of individual rights to privacy and how much information the private sector, typically, can collect,” Murrett said.

Murrett’s experience with drones while he worked for the U.S. government consisted of using larger drones to collect imagery overseas. He said he was not allowed to collect information in the U.S. unless it was with an agency like the Federal Emergency Management Agency that used drone imagery to survey damage from natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina.

“It makes a lot of sense (that the research SU has done with drones) should continue to grow,” he said.

“The U.S. is nothing unique in the drone industry,” Murrett said. “Yes, we are an aviation leader, but around the world, all countries are making progress on drone usage.”

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