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FAA seems in no mood to relax norms on COVID-19 drones

FAA seems in no mood to relax norms on COVID-19 drones

Drones that fly and drones that carry drones that spy and drones that supply: the previous few weeks have had a range of stories to be told on a single subject. But, despite the glaring need to deploy drones in the wake of the coronavirus crisis, the FAA hardly seems to relax its regulations concerned with the deployment of drones.

Local news reports have been brimming about the novelty of drones and their mass employability. There were reports on how China achieved its drone capacity to combat this global pandemic and health crisis in some of its worst-affected areas. There were headlines on drones that had loudspeakers to be deployed in crowded places and traffic prone areas.

But, all that glitters is hardly gold. While the concept is mesmerizing and the device is promising, practicality has an altogether different tale to tell. Neither has the FAA relaxed its norms to induct these drones nor given them any certification. When the recognition of these drone companies is under doubt, how can the operation be expected? 

Thus, the application of their capacity seems shrouded in a lot of uncertainties, eyed with great expectations at the same time.

That being said, let us look at whatever is missing. Under Part 107, drones can be flown by companies or individuals under 55 pounds up to 400 feet of altitude in unpopulated areas. Even under these restrictions, the drones are required to maintain a line of sight all the time they are flying. 

Waivers do exist certainly, but to be eligible for waivers that grant additional rights, the company or individual has to obtain permission after applying through due process. It is only after such permission has been obtained by the concerned authority that the applicant would be granted the rights and freedoms such as the ability to fly at night or in places which are inhabited by people.

This was Part 107 of the aviation rules. Next up we have the Part 135, under which a company can get a certification as a drone airline. But that happens rarely, and there are not many cases.

The wing, which is a popular “wing” of Google’s parent company Alphabet, has been working on a trial home delivery service which is currently in its testing phase. The services are being tested in a town of Virginia. UPS has been certified as a drone airline.

FAA is known to issue approvals to companies in case of an emergency. The same is provided rather quickly in less than an hour or so. But, that remains restricted to medical supplies like test kits, most prescription drugs, and blood as well. the prospects of supplying groceries and items of daily use to the people are still under consideration.

Needless to say, delays kill time. Zipline, a drone company, has been a pivotal player in a few African countries with its novel work. It is quite likely that the company would be the first one to secure certification as and when the FAA completes its deliberations.

The bureaucratic processes are of very tedious nature. It is high time these processes are expedited to serve the best interests of the civil society in general.

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