Unmanned aircraft systems hold tremendous potential for Illinois and the rest of our nation, but we need to ensure the public policy associated with this burgeoning industry is keeping pace. It’s also important that policymakers in Springfield and Chicago are cautious about passing restrictive laws and ordinances that could deny the societal and economic benefits of this promising technology.
Illinois is poised to be a major hub for the unmanned aerial systems — UAS — industry. According to an economic study by the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, more than 1,000 jobs will be created in the state during the first three years following the introduction of commercial UAS, with $204 million in economic impact. Those figures could grow to more than 1,500 jobs and $1.2 billion in economic impact over 10 years.
A variety of sectors, including agriculture, utilities, and even film and television, are beginning to deploy UAS for commercial purposes. But the technology is developing so rapidly there are many uses that have yet to be explored. Meanwhile, state laws on the use of UAS aren’t necessary because the Federal Aviation Administration regulates all of the nation’s airspace, including the skies over Illinois. In fact, the FAA is creating a regulatory framework for UAS that will be enacted soon and applied across the entire country.
Gov. Bruce Rauner has shown strong leadership in supporting SB44, creating the Unmanned Aerial Systems Oversight Task Force rather than introducing legislation that may not align with the rules the FAA proposed in February. AUVSI’s Heartland Chapter, which has members throughout Illinois, has requested to participate in the Task Force process because we believe collaboration between government and industry is the best way to ensure safe and responsible integration of UAS operations into the nation’s airspace.
Striking the right balance between protecting rights and advancing innovation benefits everyone, and there certainly should be a thoughtful conversation about the introduction of any new technology. However, considering rules without sufficient information and perspective might prematurely and unnecessarily limit the state’s ability to someday take advantage of the groundbreaking and potentially life-saving applications that unmanned systems have to offer.
Mario Mairena is the senior government relations manager of the Association for Unmanned Vehicles Systems International, the world’s largest nonprofit organization devoted exclusively to advancing the unmanned systems and robotics community.