Other nations ahead of U.S. in use of drones

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The United States lags far behind other nations in the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly called drones, but FAA Administrator Michael Huerta told a Congressional Committee, Wednesday, Jan 15, that agency will meet its goal of Dec. 30, 2015, for safe integration of drones in the national airspace system.

Japan now has more than 90% of its crop dusting done by drones, Mary Cummings of Duke University said. Other examples she cited included the United Kingdom, where drones may be used for commercial photography, monitoring crops, and delivering food from restaurants to homes; and South Africa where at musical festivals drones have been used to deliver beer to seats using a smart phone app. Companies in Australia and China have used drones for package delivery.

For more than 20 years the Yamaha REMAX remotely-piloted helicopter has been safely used for precision crop dusting and weed and pest control, said Henio Arcangeli, a vice president at Yamaha. More than 2,600 REMAX are in operation today, treating over 2.4 million acres of farmland in Japan alone.

The Yamaha executive said research by an industry trade association indicates use of REMAX and similar drones could improve crop yields by 15%, increase net returns by $17 to $54 per acre, and reduce fertilizer use by as much as 40%. During these 20 years RMAX has flown more than 2 million flight hours. Yamaha has been working closely with aviation authorities in other countries to develop extensive pilot training and certification programs.

Yamaha has exacting safety standards, including flight stability systems and GPS for speed and hovering control, a loss link feature that guides the unit to hover in place and then slowly land if any loss of radio communication, and a rotor brake that brings the propeller to a full stop within seconds of a landing.

In addition, the company has been working with civil aeronautics officials in other countries to develop pilot training and certification programs. In Australia, for example, these include: a pilot theory exam, a comprehensive UAV training course, 30 hours of supervised agricultural spraying, a class 2 medical certificate, a certificate of radio proficiency, completion of Yamaha’s training program, and continuing periodic training after certification.

Huerta said the six research sites recently announced by the FAA should provide data to assist in developing regulations and certifications for drones to operate in U.S. airspace. Drones range from small vehicles to large, heavy craft and each could require different certifications. The differences mean balancing certifications and authorization, he noted.

The use of drones is expected to increase substantially in coming years in the United States. The variety of uses and sizes has some communities threatening to ban or place their own restrictions on drones.

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