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COVID-19 Has Accelerated the Need for Drone Operations

Jericho Casper

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Screenshot of panelists from the webinar, June 15

June 15, 2020 — The COVID-19 pandemic has made the use case of drone delivery services abundantly clear, said Lisa Ellman, founder of the Commercial Drone Alliance, on a FBCA sponsored webinar Monday.

The healthcare industry has been one of the first to utilize commercial drones for better service.

An unexpected effect of the pandemic was the increased public acceptance of delivery drones, said Dontai Smalls, vice president of global public affairs at UPS, adding that a portion of consumers have grown to prefer drone delivery.

Drones have the ability to go places so that people, vulnerable to infection, don’t have to. Commercial drone services have become necessary in delivering critical supplies, like testing kits and prescription medicines.

UPS Flight Forward Inc. received the Federal Aviation Administration’s first and highest-level certificate to operate a drone airline just over a year ago.

The UPS subsidiary immediately launched the first drone delivery flight under the agency’s standard at WakeMed’s hospital campus in Raleigh, N.C.

The flight was flown under a government exemption allowing for a “beyond visual line of sight” operation.

This exemption was a result of the Integration Pilot Program, which works to enhance community outreach, seeking to bring state, local and tribal governments together with private sector entities to evaluate and accelerate the integration of drone operations.

The stakeholders delivered mutually beneficial regulation recommendations to the FAA.

The members said that they are currently waiting for rulemaking from regulatory bodies to further drone operations.

“Technology moves very quickly — we need the regulatory framework to move at the same pace,” said Smalls.

The FAA is set to enact future regulations, including proposed regulation surrounding night time operations and remote identification, which would require drones to have license plates.

A further obstacle impeding drone operations is the lack of spectrum allocated by the Federal Communications Commission for drone operations.

While the agency has proposed the usage of the 6 GigaHertz (GHz) band for commercial drone operations, no spectrum has yet been reallocated for this purpose. Currently, drones operate on unlicensed spectrum.

Smalls said that unlicensed spectrum is a suitable initial solution but called on federal agencies to provide additional spectrum for future operations.

“We need the dedicated resources to make this work and regulations will enable us to do more,” Smalls said.

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