New Drone Laws Offer Security Opportunities

The recently-released federal regulations for drone use can be leveraged by security teams looking to bolster surveillance.
Published: July 18, 2016

On June 21, aviation history was made once again. Not in the form of new technology, or setting a new record of sorts. What happened on that day was perhaps far more profound and important.

June 2016 will be remembered as the official start of a new industry that will have a huge impact on the future economy. Some call them drones, some unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs); however, whatever you may call them, the day the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released Part 107 – Small UAS (unmanned aircraft systems) Rules marked the start of the commercial drone industry.

While drones have been commercially utilized for the past two years, this marks a major turning point. Until this past month, it was difficult to obtain the necessary authorizations to fly a drone in commercial settings, or in exchange of money for services. But the new rules streamline everything, which in turn will create even more opportunities. Initial estimates show that within 10 years, this new industry will generate more than $82 billion for the U.S. economy, while creating more than 100,000 new jobs.

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There are several elements in these rules that will instantaneously shift the status quo, so let’s take a look at the two most important categories:

1. UAV Operators – This is the most impactful element in the rulebook. Before the new regulations, only fully licensed private or commercial pilots were able to operate UAVs commercially. This created a major problem for most companies trying to employ them because most companies did not have access to an licensed pilot (for budgetary reasons or otherwise). The new rule allows for specially trained UAS Operators to fly drones commercially (the certificate will only cost about $150). This makes incorporating drones into your business or institution much more economical. Think of the security implications.

2. Operational Limitations – The new rules limit commercial UAVs to fly below 400 feet above ground level and at speeds less than 100 mph. Even further, drones may only be used during daylight, while maintaining a visual line of sight at all times. The regulations also limit the aircraft from being heavier than 55 lbs. Despite the restrictions, it is important to note that you may petition for any of those restrictions to be waived, just as long as you can prove to the FAA that the operations will continue to be safe.

So what does this mean for security companies? In a nutshell, a slew of new capabilities!

The military has been using unmanned systems for decades, mainly due to their ease of use and low cost. How could a commander get a bird’s eye view of the area cheaper or quicker than by employing a UAV?

Under the Part 107 ruling, this capability is now available to private security companies as well. Need to get a tactical overview of a particular situation? Perhaps add small UAVs to your inventory to offer new clients a cheaper alternative to their monitoring package. For instance, security of industrial areas (shipyard, storage facility, etc.) and campuses can now be augmented by drones to provide a quick eye in the sky. Security experts will be able to integrate traditional surveillance with UAVs to paint an even more complete picture of any situation at hand.

Moving forward, the usage of UAV systems will now only be limited by the technical side, where batteries are the primary limiting factor of flight length and UAV endurance. However,  newer Quadcopter designs are already fighting these limitations, some allowing for up to one hour of flight time. In the security sector, if the desire is to surveil a specific area, tethered UAV designs provide hours (or even days) of uninterrupted flight time and bypass many of these limitations.

You may be wondering: Where is this all headed?

Undoubtedly, these rules will spur major shifts in the marketplace. For example, flight schools are already creating UAV curriculums for new potential operators, and insurance companies and law firms are starting to specialize in drones as well. Currently we see very broadly skilled UAV companies, but I predict that companies will transition and specialize in drones for the various industries; for the security industry, for law enforcement, for university campuses, and the list goes on.

As for future regulations, though this first set of rules is seen as overly restrictive by some, the FAA’s sole purpose is safety. Once the industry has demonstrated that operations can be accomplished safely in specific categories, these rules will change.

For instance, over time and with patience, companies will show that Beyond Line of Sight operations can be performed safely. The FAA will start seeing requests for waivers in specific categories and slowly this will trigger the FAA to change this ruling.

During this first year, we will see an explosion of companies building and using UAVs, companies protecting operators and consumers, and new areas of drones. The growth surge will be an adjustment. Some rules will eventually become more restrictive, while others will be opened up. Most importantly, we must remember that drones are here, and all industries will shift because of them.

I, for one, am excited to see what that future beholds!

Andy Von Stauffenberg is the CEO of VStar Systems.

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