COVID-19 is pushing society to get creative with how we do business and use technology. That’s included calls to expand drone use for contact-free deliveries. Now two senators are calling on the FAA to waive rules that slow down development of drone delivery services.
Nevada senators Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen, both Democrats, recently sent a letter to Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and FAA Administrator Steve Dickson, reports news site MeriTalk. In it, they stress the need for contact-free delivery options of medical supplies due to COVID-19 social distancing efforts:
We hope you agree that first responders, public health agencies, and retailers need to have the ability to utilize emerging technology solutions that can deliver these necessities in a timely and safe manner, such as unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), more commonly known as drones.
The letter goes on to ask the FAA to waive regulatory limits that have slowed down such operations. These would likely be Part 107 restrictions such as the requirement that a drone not operate beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS). The FAA does have a waiver program for many of the Part 107 restrictions, including BVLOS. But the senators don’t seem content with the timeframe required to grant waivers. (The FAA has issued 53 BVLOS waivers since 2016.)
Instead, they ask for a blanket waiver on BVLOS and any other restrictions.
There is a strong case for temporarily waiving these regulatory limitations on UAS operations that will expand our communities’ access to vital resources, provided that delivery by UAS can be done in a safe and efficient manner.
A tough battle
Chances are slim that the FAA will budge. It has already faced and weathered criticism for the regulatory limits it puts on drones during the pandemic. The agency responds that it can take rapid action on waivers when required, in as little as 24 hours.
That’s rarely happened, however. And it seems unlikely that the FAA would open up much more than it already has, absent extreme political pressure. A letter from two members of the Senate’s Democratic minority party, to an agency under a Republican Administration, is unlikely to move policy.