Springfield businesses see new drone rules as good for growth

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Frank Beafore, of SelectTech Geospatial, discusses one of the company's new products that can be used in precision agriculture and other purposes.

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

In-depth coverage

The Springfield News-Sun provides unmatched coverage of unmanned aircraft and how the technology is impacting jobs and businesses in Clark and Champaign counties. For this story, the paper spoke to experts about the recently released rules for routine use of small drones.

By the numbers:

$82 billion — Potential impact of unmanned craft on the U.S. economy in next decade

100,000 — Potential new jobs in U.S. in next decade

55 pounds — Size of unmanned craft mostly affected by new rules

16 — Minimum age to operate UAS under new rules

Ohio businesses will have more freedom to experiment and grow after the Federal Aviation Administration recently released its first rules for how small drones can operate commercially in U.S. airspace, Springfield experts said.

The regulations, released late last month, go into effect in August. They provide the first framework for how businesses can safely use small unmanned aircraft in industries ranging from agriculture to movies.

Frank Beafore, executive director at SelectTech Geospatial in Springfield, described the new rules as a reasonable way to guard public safety while providing businesses room to develop new uses for the technology. SelectTech is based at Springfield-Beckley Municipal Airport and makes unmanned aircraft systems, including for Clark State Community College.

“We’re going to see applications for things we haven’t even dreamed of yet,” Beafore said.

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But the industry is expected to boom over the next decade, with the potential to generate more than $82 billion for the U.S. economy and create more than 100,000 new jobs, according to a report from the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International.

“We are part of a new era in aviation, and the potential for unmanned aircraft will make it safer and easier to do certain jobs, gather information and deploy disaster relief,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement. “We look forward to working with the aviation community to support innovation, while maintaining our standards as the safest and most complex airspace in the world.”

The new rules focus on vehicles weighing less than 55 pounds used for commercial purposes. More research needs to be completed on sense-and-avoid technologies before larger drones can be integrated into airspace, Beafore said.

“The larger UAS will be flying at a higher altitude and there has to be some method to know where they are,” he said.

Nationally thousands of companies have already been able to use drones for business purposes by applying for a waiver. The FAA has granted more than 7,100 such exemptions by the end of June and thousands of additional requests are in the pipeline.

The new rules are expected to make it easier for businesses to operate legally, without having to seek an exemption.

Clark and Champaign County residents aren’t likely to suddenly see dozens of new machines flying in the skies for a variety of reasons, Beafore said. Many of the companies most interested in the technology are already operating under exemptions, for example. And many of the current uses are in less populated areas, including farmers who fly drones over farm fields or firms that use them to inspect utility lines.

One of the benefits of the new rules is that operators don’t need a pilot’s license, said Aaron Lawrence, a drone expert for Woolpert, an engineering firm with an office in Beavercreek. Instead, operators must register the drone and pass an exam for certification. Operators must be at least 16 years old.

“In terms of who can operate these, that provides more freedom for a commercial venture as well,” Lawrence said.

The rules also explain how the drones can operate in different types of airspace. Operators must keep the drones within sight, and can’t fly them over people or crowds without permission.

Woolpert is a surveying and mapping company that has used the drones for everything from landslide monitoring to construction progress in rural areas.

“You still have the cowboys out there but for those of us who are following the rules, it allows us quite a bit more freedom to be able to operate,” Lawrence said.