Commercial drones are increasingly popular, but there are risks

Drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), are being effectively deployed in many commercial applications across a swath of industries. The technology is being used in construction work, insurance inspections, agriculture and public safety.

“Regardless of the industry or type of work, it’s always better to work smarter, not harder,” says Clayton A. Harris, chief of police at Cuyahoga Community College and vice president and dean of its Public Safety Center of Excellence. “When technology enables greater efficiency with reduced costs and effort, it’s quickly and aggressively adopted.”

But before companies can use UAVs to help solve problems, they need to be able to identify operators who understand the rules governing drone flight.

Smart Business spoke with Harris about the commercial applications of UAVs, drone training and the regulations that direct their use.

Why are drones becoming more popular for commercial applications?
The pace of drone technology development has been fast. Drones went from being an interest of hobbyists to becoming so widely used that small-scale drones are as easy to operate as toys in the hands of general consumers.

In the commercial realm, drone use has grown exponentially. Not only has the cost of equipment come down, but it’s much easier to retrieve and interpret data collected through UAVs.

Because drone technology is so popular, UAV manufacturers are able to make greater investments in research, materials and development to deliver more advanced capabilities. Drones have become out-of-the-box solutions with many applications.

What laws or regulations are commercial drone operators required to abide by?
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which polices the national airspace, is the main governing body for drone flight. Its most significant regulatory milestone is its Small Unmanned Aircraft Regulations (Part 107), which sets operating, registration, pilot certification and airspace authorization requirements.

There are separate rules for pilots flying drones for business and those flying for fun. Operators can incur significant penalties for failing to register certain UAVs or for operating a drone in restricted airspace, such as within a five-mile radius of an airport or flying over a stadium with a seating capacity of more than 30,000 during an event.

Recently, the FAA launched a nationwide beta test of the Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability to support the safe integration of drones into the nation’s airspace. Through this system, drone operators can receive real-time airspace authorizations to quickly plan their flights.

How can UAV operators improve their skills?
The FAA’s website offers details on UAV operation and flight, and provides a wealth of information on pilot certification and the requirements to pilot small UAVs.

The Ohio/Indiana Center in Springfield, Ohio, is working to advance the commercialization of the technology and support the UAS community in research and development. The organization will assist anyone looking for help with any aspect of UAV, helping operators get up in the air faster.

There are also area schools that offer drone training programs. These courses train pilots in making flight plans and on the laws and regulations governing operation, as well as flight training through simulations and live operation to prepare students to take the FAA Part 107 exam.

There also are industry-specific courses — for example, a training program that introduces law enforcement officers, firefighters and other first responders to drone technology, its capabilities and how and when to use drones in emergency and homeland security situations.

What should companies know before using drones for commercial purposes?
Before contracting with a pilot, determine if he or she is bonded and insured. Conduct background checks and find out if the pilot has some history of success in the work he or she is being asked to do. Also, check to ensure that the pilot has completed training and is certified to operate the specific UAV required for the task.

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