- Skyward, the Verizon-owned drone operations management platform, secured Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approval Tuesday to grant commercial drone operators instant access to controlled airspace, the company reported. It joins 11 others as part of the FAA's working group with such capabilities.
- That permission, given through the FAA's Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC) services, will commence this fall, starting with airports in Cincinnati; Reno, NV; San Jose, CA; and Lincoln, NE.
- Operators who previously had to wait 60 to 90 days to get approved under the current system will now be able to access airspace authorization through the program via an automated and instantaneous approval process.
The FAA's move to expedite commercial drone operations approvals marks a significant step in the technology's push to reach the mainstream market. Since the administration released its final commercial drone rules last year, developers have been quick to optimize the technology's hardware and software capabilities while construction companies have jumped on the opportunity to implement the tech in their operations.
And while unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are still used predominantly by hobbyists and the military, the commercial sector now ranks as the fastest-growing segment of that market. Construction, especially, stands to be a driving force behind that uptake as the industry is set to make up the fastest-growing market for adopting the technology from this year until 2026.
Most recently, drone use in disaster relief efforts across the nation's hurricane-battered South have likely helped promote further uptake. Following the devastation left by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, the FAA issued more than 200 authorizations for emergency-drone use, later calling them "invaluable in supporting response and recovery efforts" after the storms.
Although the FAA's rules aren't comprehensive, those guidelines have allowed construction companies and other commercial operators to explore new uses for the technology. With last year's rules in place, construction companies were given the green light to perform what are now some of their most common drone-backed tasks, from aerial photography to site scanning — so long as companies stay within those guidelines.
Universities, too, are experimenting with ways to test out drones in more real-world simulations. The University of Michigan and Virginia Tech, among others, have built netted enclosures to test drone capabilities in outdoor conditions and with limited need for FAA oversight.
As drone stakeholders and commercial use advocates push for the technology's widespread adoption, analysts predict UAV popularity will soar in the coming years. The FAA expects more than 400,000 small commercial drones to take to the skies by 2021, up from 42,000 at the end of last year. How governing agencies view drones' performance both in recovery efforts and in circumstances following their expedited approval will have a strong impact on that figure.