Amazon and Google should develop drones overseas

elephant-in-the-roombanksy

More delivery drones, more hype. Amazon currently rules the drone delivery hype space and Google wants to show us they are in the game.

Its all too easy to trot out the line that the FAA is restricting unmanned aircraft development in the United States. To an extent it’s true. Years of hand wringing and posturing, cries of the most advanced drone programs in the world all seem much like the story of the emperor’s new clothes. It still looks very much like 2021 is the real target for widespread civil commercial RPAS integration in the USA. Lets hope I am wrong.

Five test sites have been chosen,  there is no publicly available schedule which to build and test towards. Nearest out there is that of the DHS RAPS (Robotic Aircraft for Public Service)

Keyholders to the sites are also reluctant to make the cost of testing within them public.

The elephant in the room that most folks seem to either be ignoring or just don’t know about is, ITAR (International Traffic in Arms Regulations). In place since 1976, it was created for U.S. national security and foreign policy objectives. In our space it stops navigation equipment and some drone parts falling into foreign hands. Written before $30 GPS came into being.

People have been charged for exporting autopilots and drone parts from the USA. Even second hand ones on eBay. ITAR violations can result in civil fines as high as $500,000 per violation, while criminal penalties include  fines of up to $1,000,000 and 10 years imprisonment per violation, not to be taken lightly then.

It has protected and hindered DoD vendors.

At Farnborough 2010 Wes Bush of Lockheed Martin said it all really and nothing has changed in the following four years.

“We need to recognize exactly what it is we’re trying to protect, there are a lot of folks around the world that understand how to build really good air frames. And a UAV s basically an air frame. Export restrictions “caused competitors around the globe to invest where we already had invested, and it locked us out of markets,” Two government entities are holding us back, one from flying in the USA and the other stops our platforms flying overseas. ITAR rules seem ever more archaic as the very sensors that when packaged together become of concern to DDTC are found in most smart phones these days”

In August 2009 President Obama’s Export Control Reform started the job of relaxing rules.

Speaking in 2010 he had this to say about it.

“While there is still more work to be done, taken together, these reforms will focus our resources on the threats that matter most, and help us work more effectively with our allies in the field. They’ll bring transparency and coherence to a field of regulation which has long been lacking both. And by enhancing the competitiveness of our manufacturing and technology sectors, they’ll help us not just increase exports and create jobs, but strengthen our national security as well.”

Just like airspace integration the wheels are turning slowly on this one.

With ITAR still in the mix it makes sense to bring your ideas into the real world overseas and completely avoid any issues then selling them to other nations or using them outside of the USA.

Small platforms like Googles Delivery Flying Wing fall into a clearly defined regulatory space in Australia, so no grey areas or sneaking around. Weathers good there as well.

Once outed in Australia there is nothing to stop platforms being taken back to the USA and flown inside Hanger One until the FAA works out what its doing. That would not be the case if the wing was entirely designed in America and was taken to Australia.

Some DoD vendors are already getting into bed with overseas manufacturers and through competitions meeting new engineering talent and forging links in less restrictive markets.

Amazon and Google can afford to tour, large companies can afford to jump through ITAR and export hoops.

Backyard innovators not so much, they are where the exciting ideas are coming from and they are hitting red tape road blocks all around.

Greely said “Washington is not a place to live in. The rents are high, the food is bad, the dust is disgusting and the morals are deplorable. Go West, young man, go West and grow up with the country”

Washington is still causing problems, Horace couldn’t know quite how far you might need to travel 150 years later.