Drone enthusiasts have been dreaming up applications for the tiny, unmanned flyers for years but federal regulations have kept many of the ideas grounded. No longer.
New rules governing the use of the flying objects introduced by the Federal Aviation Administration on Monday – regulations that go by the bureaucratic title “Part 107” – open the door for companies throughout the country eager to test the possibilities drones offer.
“Part 107 has democratized the sky,” said Jonathan Evans, chief executive of Portland-based Skyward, a startup that helps companies navigate drone regulations.
“Today, there are just over 500,000 pilots with a traditional pilot’s license in the United States,” Evans wrote in an email to The Oregonian/OregonLive. “Soon, there will be millions of drone pilots using our national airspace.”
Until now, businesses that wanted to use drones had to apply for an exemption from the FAA’s existing rules. That approval process could take as long as nine months, and could cost more than $1,000.
Under the FAA’s new rules, those looking to use drones for their business simply have to apply for a 107 rating. Approval takes a week or two and costs about $150.
Those in the drone industry say the new rules are a long time coming.
Chuck Allen, executive director of SOAR Oregon, a nonprofit dedicated to growing the state’s drone industry, said though only 80 people had authorization to fly drones commercially in Oregon, hundreds were doing so anyway.
Those people are likely breathing a sigh of relief now that they have a cheaper, faster way to get that authorization, he said.
The FAA, citing industry estimates, said the new rules could generate more than $82 billion for the U.S. economy and create more than 100,000 new jobs over the next 10 years.
Allen cautioned that no one knows how much the industry could generate, because the amount depends on the FAA’s ability to quickly put rules in place to manage new sectors.
The new rules will allow Oregonians – and those throughout the U.S. – to get a piece of this market, regardless of its size.
“It’s going to help jumpstart more manufacturing and innovation,” Allen said.
The industries that will benefit the most? Agriculture and any that can use imaging, he said.
Those waiting for Amazon package delivery via drone will have to keep waiting. Before corporate giants like Amazon and Google deploy thousands of drones throughout the country, they’ll need to build a system to coordinate the traffic. (Like air traffic control, but for lower airspace.)
In some ways, Oregon is uniquely positioned to capitalize on the opportunities that come with the new rules. The state is home to three FAA-approved test ranges and farmers keen to experiment with drone-enabled precision farming.
It’s also home to several companies like Skyward that got into the drone business early, and are banking on an increasing number of clients who need help making sense of the new rules and incorporating drones into their business.
Chipmaker Intel is also betting drones will become a strong new category as its income from PCs dwindles.
It has showcased the technology by using software it developed to deploy dozens of drones simultaneously for high-tech light shows, and FAA administrator Michael Huerta put Intel CEO Brian Krzanich in charge of an advisory committeethat will guide future rulemaking.
At Aerial Technology International in Wilsonville, the calls are increasingly rolling in, said chief technology officer Lawrence Dennis.
The company, which integrates and builds drones for clients in the agriculture, mining, surveying and construction industries, is hoping the new rules provide an easier regulatory route for industry newcomers, freeing up FAA time for waiver requests from more advanced companies.
For companies like ATI, Dennis explains, more excitement surrounds the add-ons like software and sensors, rather than the drones themselves.
“Drones are a commodity right now,” he said. “But the drones right now are almost incidental in what people are trying to do. The more exciting stuff is in the payloads and what we can we do with them.”
The new rules will allow the market to shift, said Brian Whiteside, president of Corvallis-based VDOS Global, a company that flies drones for companies and trains employees how to use them. The firm also offers an app, Drone Complier, that guides new users through the FAA’s regulations.
First, Whiteside expects the new rules to make life easier for established companies like his. It will also spur more competition, he said.
“It’s so new it’s hard to tell what’s going to happen, but we’re definitely excited about the future,” he said. “There’s going to be a whole lot more opportunity in the market, and it’s going to shake things up.”