Who should regulate drones?
by Gary Shapiro
Hawaii has long been at the forefront of aviation innovation. Today, a new kind of aviation technology is helping to save lives and natural resources in Hawaii: Drones.
After the Kīlauea volcano eruption, the Department of the Interior used drones to monitor lava advancement rates and provide directions to safely guide evacuations. National Tropical Botanical Garden conservationists also used drones to find the Laukahi plant, a critically endangered medicinal herb, in a 1,000-acre preserve.
Despite the use cases showing drones are changing our lives for the better, the Aloha State has introduced more drone-specific bills than any other state, much of them problematic. During the past three years alone, the state legislature introduced 29 bills concerning commercial and consumer drone operations, many of which overlap or conflict with current federal and state laws and rules.
Reactionary, technology-specific approaches to drones will stymie innovation and create confusion for companies and operators looking to use new technology in Hawaii. America needs a national, united front when it comes to drone innovation. Local rules that conflict with national ones threaten the growth of the entire U.S. drone industry, which the Consumer Technology Association (CTA)™ expects to surpass $1 billion in sales revenue this year, according to CTA’s 2019 Sales and Forecast report.
That’s why CTA – the owner and producer of CES®, the largest and most influential technology event in the world – brought together drone industry executives and government stakeholders to the Hawaii State Capitol on Thursday to discuss the latest drone innovations and their benefits to Hawaii. Representatives from major industry brand names including DJI and PrecisionHawk showed off their latest drone innovations to local, state and federal stakeholders this week in areas including public safety, natural resources and economic development.
Drones have the potential to become one of the most valuable breakthrough technologies of the future. In California alone, using small drones rather than diesel trucks to deliver packages would cut emissions by more than 50 percent. Drones are essential tools in the quick delivery of supplies and medicines, especially in times of natural disasters. Silicon Valley-based Zipline, in partnership with the UPS Foundation and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, is using drones to deliver blood and medical supplies to Rwanda’s remote population. In Sweden, drones carry external defibrillators for fast delivery to people having heart attacks.
Drones are also doing valuable police work – documenting crime scenes, dealing with bombs and hazardous materials and helping in search and rescue operations. They can make airline travel safer by spotting debris on runways, and be used for better and more efficient crop production. Drones can even bring internet access to remote areas.
For the U.S. to remain a leader in drone technologies, the federal government and the drone industry must continue to work together on rules that strike a balance between innovation and safety. The federal government has exclusive jurisdiction over drone safety, flight altitudes, flight paths, no-fly zones and the policy framework for the drone industry to continue to expand. Earlier this month the Department of Transportation announced new rules to expand drone use at night and over people. With these new rules, the federal government is laying the building blocks for innovation which allow technology companies to grow.
But local and state efforts to enact conflicting rules threaten the growth of America’s drone industry. Before considering any new drone bills this year, Hawaii’s state lawmakers should consider whether the bill is preempted, already addressed by existing laws or if a drone-specific bill is even warranted. Hawaii’s aviation legacy shouldn’t stop with manned flights.
We’re only beginning to discover how drone innovations can change our lives for the better. But to continue growing - and delivering these benefits - the drone industry needs a regulatory landscape that supports both innovation and safety from the top down, not bottom up.
Gary Shapiro is president and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association, the U.S. trade association representing more than 2,200 consumer technology companies, and a New York Times best-selling author. His newest book is Ninja Future: Secrets to Success in the New World of Innovation. His views are his own.