New ranking advises action by states to enhance drone activity readiness

Updated analysis from researchers at George Mason University’s Mercatus Center is offering officials across the US an idea of how well or poorly their states rank in terms of preparing for increased enterprise and public service drone use and provides them ways to improve their readiness as activity nears expected expansion.

The revision of the recurring “Is Your State Ready for Drone Commerce?” list by the Mercatus Center is the work of Brent Skorup, who calculates the ranking using six criteria. Those grade enterprise drone activity readiness of individual states based on their regulatory and infrastructure flexibility, innovation, and support of UAV sector actors working to expand operations. Number one in the aerial Top 50 is Oklahoma, followed by North Dakota and Arkansas, with Nebraska, Rhode Island, and Mississippi at the bottom.

Read: West Virginia to ease laws restraining drone use and investment 

In his summary about the sluggish pace to ready US skies for the looming explosion in UAV traffic, Skorup says part of the lag arises from the many, many balls the Federal Aviation Administration has in the air at any given moment – limiting its ability for focus on small craft. At the same time, he added, “progress in the United States has been slow in part because of a lack of clarity about federal and state roles in drone and airspace management.” 

To remedy that, he urges states to seize existing opportunities to prepare their readiness for increasing drone activity by taking into account and acting to improve the six, value-weighted criteria the Mercatus Center’s ranking is based on.

1. Airspace lease law (30 points): More than one-third of states currently allow state or local authorities to lease airspace above public roads and private property.

2. Aviation easement law (25 points): These laws allow drone flights as long as they are high enough to avoid being a noise nuisance to landowners and passersby.

3. Task force or program office (20 points): States that have a drone program office within their department of transportation or a statewide task force will be ahead of the curve and can anticipate future issues.

4. Law vesting landowners with air rights (10 points): These laws clarify property rights, thereby reducing litigation risk for drone operators and homeowners alike.

5. Sandbox (10 points): The term sandbox refers to a designated place to test new technologies under liberal rules for a predetermined duration. A drone sandbox allows early stage companies to show proof of concept to investors and regulators.

6. Jobs estimate (5 points): The number of drone jobs in a state signals future growth in drone commerce.

Skorup stresses the importance of the first point. Establishing drone corridors above public roadways, he said, is an ideal way to expand potential UAV traffic and generally increase states’ readiness in places where safety risks will be limited and additional noise creation isn’t a problem. 

“Creating a clear and coherent framework at the state and local level, such as a system of drone highways, will make parcel delivery faster, improve distribution of medical supplies, and create jobs in the technology and logistics sectors,” he wrote.

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