Drone Dilemma?

Opportunities abound, but safety concerns have some looking for more regulations

Since Amazon made a splash a few years ago with plans to incorporate unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) into its package delivery service, all sorts of industries have been abuzz about drones and brainstorming innovative ways to use this burgeoning technology.

But is interest and usage in drones moving too fast for the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to keep up with concerns over safety?

"The FAA has to act and toughen up the rules before a tragedy occurs, because if a drone were sucked into a jet engine of a plane filled with passengers, untold tragedy could result, and we do not, do not, do not want that to happen," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., a lawmaker who wants the FAA to speed efforts to update regulations and close loopholes covering the use of drones.1

High commercial interest

Already, the FAA has granted special permits while it develops comprehensive rules to govern how commercial drones should share the sky with passenger planes. Proposed rules for commercial drones were released in February, and officials are now reviewing thousands of public comments that were submitted. The FAA has granted 944 commercial drone permits as of July 28—with thousands more applications pending.2

For instance, real estate businesses want to use commercial drones to showcase properties with videos taken from the air. Farmers want to operate them to monitor crops and tailor their use of pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers and other applications. Utilities are considering them to inspect electric and gas lines in remote areas.

"To me, the diversity of industries that are coming forward in this initial phase [of applying for FAA special permits] and saying we’d like to fly using [drones] is the most significant element," said Brian Wynne, CEO of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, a trade group. "We think there’s a ready-made market out there."3

After the FAA establishes the guidelines for commercial use, the drone industry said it expects more than 100,000 jobs to be created and nearly half a billion dollars in tax revenue to be generated collectively by 2025.4

It’s also predicted that drone activity could be worth tens of billions of dollars to U.S. companies over the next decade as demand for this technology rises. Organizations are expected to spend money on drones to use for surveillance activities, agriculture, weather and environmental monitoring, oil and gas exploration, and aerial imaging and mapping. Government authorities, such as police, firefighters and other first responders, also are expected to invest in the technology.5

Addressing safety concerns

Along with the excitement and enthusiasm over drones, concerns about aviation safety surrounding this advancing technology persist.

Consider just a couple of recent examples of disruptive drone activity:

  • Pilots at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport reported four drone sightings within a three-day stretch in late July and early August. Other reports of near collisions between drones and airplanes have been reported in Austin, TX, and Minneapolis in recent months. FAA rules prohibit drones from flying within five miles of an airport and no higher than 400 feet.6
  • Unmanned devices were spotted flying above flames and smoke from the forest fires in July in California, forcing fire crews to ground water-dropping aircraft. The delays allowed the fires to spread, resulting in devastating property losses.7

FAA spokeswoman Elizabeth Isham Cory said the agency receives about 60 reports from pilots each month alerting the agency of drones flying too close to airports, airplanes or helicopters.8 Some state and federal-level lawmakers, as well as private companies, are looking to take action to protect the skies and further regulate drones:

State: Proposed state legislation in California would allow firefighters and law enforcement personnel to take down drones hindering emergency operations. The proposed law would give firefighters and other first responders immunity if they damage drones that are interfering during a fire or other emergency. Another piece of legislation would make it a misdemeanor to fly a drone over a forest fire. Drone operators could face up to $2,000 in fines.9

Federal: In addition to the FAA finalizing guidelines around commercial drones, a big piece of legislation in Washington, D.C., the Consumer Drone Safety Act, would address concerns around consumer, or recreational, drones. The act would create federal regulations regarding when, where and how consumer drones can be operated, while requiring new safety technologies be built into all new drones.

This includes collision-avoidance technology, transponders that signal a drone’s location to air traffic controllers and other aircraft, and geo-fencing—technology that creates a virtual global-positioning system fence around no-fly zones that would prevent drones from entering areas near airports or other restricted airspace. The bill also calls for anti-tampering safeguards that would prevent users from modifying consumer drones after they are purchased.10

Private companies: Amazon, too, has proposed a blueprint for a low-altitude air-traffic system, said Gur Kimchi, a vice president who heads the company’s drone-delivery division. Trafficking the skies is essential before the world’s largest online retailer can revolutionize how packages are delivered using drones, he said.11

The only way drones can dart across the skies without hitting each other or threatening traditional aircraft is by requiring the equivalence of flight plans to be filed and ensuring that drones communicate their positions to a centralized computer system available to all operators, according to Kimchi.12

"It’s completely doable," Kimchi said. "We can only be safe and efficient if everybody else is safe and efficient."13

Privacy and quality of life

Aside from the concerns about collisions, some drone doubters bring up privacy and quality of life issues, envisioning swarms of drones interrupting sunsets while delivering packages or swooping across backyards to snap photos of unsuspecting sunbathers.

Those concerns have the U.S. National Telecommunication and Information Administration hosting discussions on developing voluntary privacy standards for drones.

"From enhancing news gathering, improving agribusiness and equipping new delivery models, to providing internet in remote areas, the possibilities for UAS are staggering," said Angela Simpson, the agency’s deputy assistant secretary for communications and information. "Consumer trust and responsible operation are keys to fully tapping the transformative potential of unmanned aircraft."14

—compiled by Mark Edmund, associate editor


  1. "Sullenberger: Drone Aircraft a Grave Threat to Aviation Safety," Aug. 3, 2015, CBS-DC, http://tinyurl.com/drone-safety-threat.
  2. Bart Jansen, "Study Finds Showcasing Real Estate Most Popular Business Use for Drones," USA Today, July 31, 2015, http://tinyurl.com/more-drone-uses.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Christopher Doering, "Growing Use of Drones Poised to Transform Agriculture," USA Today, March 23, 2014, http://tinyurl.com/agricultural-drones.
  5. Clay Dillow, "What is the Drone Industry Really Worth?" Fortune, March 12, 2013, http://fortune.com/2013/03/12/what-is-the-drone-industry-really-worth.
  6. "Sullenberger: Drone Aircraft a Grave Threat to Aviation Safety," see reference 1.
  7. Matt Hamilton and Veronica Rocha, "$75,000 in Rewards Offered to Catch Operators Who Flew Drones Above Fires," Los Angeles Times, July 28, 2015, http://tinyurl.com/drones-over-fires.
  8. Nick Ferraro, "Drone, Airliner in Close Encounter Near Twin Cities Airport," St. Paul Pioneer Press, Aug. 5, 2015, http://tinyurl.com/twin-cities-drones.
  9. Matt O’Brien, "Drone Traffic Control? NASA, Amazon and Google Partner to Manage Self-Driving Swarms," San Jose Mercury News, July 28, 2015, http://tinyurl.com/amazon-google-drones.
  10. Clay Dillow, "Is Congress’ New Drone Safety Act an Innovation Killer?" Fortune, June 23, 2015, http://fortune.com/2015/06/23/congress-drone-safety.
  11. Alan Levin, "Amazon Envisions Distinct Drone Zones for Future Delivery Fleet," Bloomberg Business News, http://tinyurl.com/amazon-fleet-plans.
  12. Ibid.
  13. Ibid.
  14. Grant Gross, "U.S. to Begin Talks on Drone Privacy Standards," PC World, July 13, 2015, http://tinyurl.com/drone-privacy-standards.

Who’s Who in Q

NAME: Himanshu Trivedi.

RESIDENCE: Ahmedabad, India.

EDUCATION: Doctorate from the Birla Institute of Technology and Science in Pilani, India.

INTRODUCTION TO QUALITY: Trivedi learned from his parents and teachers at CN Vidyalaya school in Gujarat, India, that quality is to achieve perfection. He was formally introduced to quality by professors at Shantilal Shah Engineering College in Gujarat, India, and the Birla Institute of Technology and Science in Pilani, as well as his doctoral guide. While working at Crompton Greaves and Bosch Rexroth, his mentors also guided him to explore different aspects of quality management.

CURRENT JOB: Vice president and technical plant manager at Bosch Rexroth India.

PREVIOUS JOBS: Responsible for quality management and methods at Bosch Rexroth in India and South East Asia Pacific. He was also responsible for Bosch Production Systems (lean), and health safety and environment at Bosch Rexroth India. When he worked at Crompton Greaves, he learned about the planning and operational aspects of quality management. Also, working in an international environment at Bosch Rexroth further enhanced his understanding of quality not only as operational, but also as strategic and cultural.

ASQ ACTIVITIES: Trivedi has been an ASQ member since 2001 and helped establish ASQ’s Ahmedabad local member community in 2010 when ASQ India started its operation. Since then, he has served as chair of the ASQ Ahmedabad chapter and has been actively involved in spreading quality knowledge.

OTHER ACTIVITIES/ACHIEVEMENTS: Nominated as member of the board of studies for a few institutes in Ahmedabad. Awarded Fellow of the National Center of Quality Management, India. Senior member of the Indian Institute of Industrial Engineers, India.

PUBLICATIONS: Co-editor of Quality Management for Zero Defect and Zero Effect (ASQ India, 2014). Authored, co-authored and presented several papers at referred journals, and national and international conferences.

RECENT HONORS: Elected to ASQ’s 2014 class of Fellows. Named one of "40 New Voices of Quality" by QP in 2011. ASQ-certified manager of quality/organizational excellence.

PERSONAL: Wife, Dhara; daughter, Isha; and son, Jignasu.

FAVORITE WAYS TO RELAX: Reading and spending time with family.

QUALITY QUOTE: Quality is creating the right mindset and passionately working toward excellence through a proactive approach and effective systems.

ASQ Journal Spotlight

QP occasionally highlights an open-access article from one of ASQ’s seven other journals.

This month, read "Finding Threats and Hazards Simultaneously in the Concept Phase of System Development," which appeared in the June edition of the Software Quality Professional (SQP).

Author Masao Ito focuses on finding hazards and threats to assure system safety and security. He uses the item sketch and goal model and applies guidewords.

Masao also uses standards and the example of the automobile for explanation purposes, but thinks this method applies to various domains.

To access the 10-page article in PDF format, click on the "Current Issue" link on SQP’s webpage at http://asq.org/pub/sqp. From there, you also can find a link to information about subscribing to the quarterly publication.

Date In Quality History

QP occasionally looks back on an event or person that made a difference in the history of quality.

Sept. 17, 2013

Eiji Toyoda died at the age of 100 on this date. The well-known industrialist helped propel his family’s automobile company—Toyota Motor Corp.—into a worldwide force and changed the way automobiles are made.

Eiji’s cousin, Kiichiro Toyoda, created the automaker but resigned in 1948. Eiji Toyada became involved in the company and was sent to the United States in 1950 to study the auto industry and American manufacturing methods. He returned and redesigned Toyota’s plants with advanced assembly techniques and machinery.

The unique Toyota management approach had three main objectives: keeping inventory to a minimum through kanban or a "just in time" system, ensuring each assembly step is performed correctly the first time, and reducing the amount of human labor that went into assembling each vehicle.

In 1967, Toyoda was named president of the automaker. Under his watch, Toyota sold an all-time high 1.7 million vehicles in Japan and
1.7 million vehicles overseas in 1985, and profits peaked at $2.1 billion.

Toyoda stepped down as chairman of Toyota in 1994 at age 81.



Baldrige Recipients Score
High Quality Measurements

Healthcare organizations that received the Baldrige National Quality Award matched or exceeded the measurements of healthcare quality and patient experience of their nearby competitors, according to a recent study.

Thirty-four organizations that received the award were compared with 153 of their competitors located within a 25 to 50-mile radius. Researchers examined data for 39 measurements that U.S. hospitals publicly report to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

The patient-experience results data come from Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Services (HCAHPS) surveys of patients.

"The HCAHPS patient survey results were the most significant findings in this study," wrote Ron Schulingkamp and John R. Latham, the research authors.

"Hospitals that used the (Baldrige Healthcare Criteria for Performance Excellence, [abbreviated by the authors as HCPE]) had higher means and lower standard deviations (indicating a measurable positive patient experience) than the non-HCPE hospitals in all 10 measures," the researchers wrote.

The differences were statistically significant for nine of those 10 measurements, the authors wrote, showing there is a definite positive effect on patient experience with the use of the criteria.

For more on the study, which was featured in the recent Quality Management Journal article "Healthcare Performance Excellence: A Comparison of Baldrige Award Recipients and Competitors," visit http://tinyurl.com/baldrige-healthcare.

Short Runs

THE DEADLINE TO submit nominations for next year’s Harry S. Hertz Leadership Award is Sept. 20. The award is named for the long-time leader of the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program. For more details about the award, the nomination process, award criteria and a list of the 11 selection committee members, visit www.baldrigefoundation.org.

THE U.S. CELEBRATION of World Standards Day, an event that recognizes the critical role of various stakeholders across the standards community, including business leaders, industry, academia and government, will be held in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 1. For more information about the celebration, visit http://tinyurl.com/world-standards-day.

TO MARK WORLD Statistics Day on Oct. 20, a data visualization competition is being held by StatisticsView.com and John Wiley & Sons Ltd. For more information about the competition, visit www.statisticsviews.com/view/WorldStatsDayComp.html.

THE ASSOCIATION FOR Manufacturing Excellence (AME) announced the eight keynote speakers who will be featured at its annual AME Excellence Inside Conference Oct. 19-23 in Cincinnati. For more information about the five-day event, visit www.ame.org/cincinnati.

THE ANSI-ASQ National Accreditation Board has become the first accreditation program to offer the new international featured standards (IFS) Food Store third-party retail inspection standard in the Americas. The IFS Food Store standard is the only third-party inspection program based on ISO/IEC 17020, which is currently available from a leading global scheme owner. For more information about the accreditation, visit http://tinyurl.com/food-store-inspection.

ASQ News

UPCOMING DIVISION EVENTS  Three September and October conferences are being organized by ASQ divisions. ASQ’s Inspection Division will host its annual conference Sept. 10-11 in Dayton, OH. Visit http://asq.org/inspect for more details ASQ’s Biomedical Division is planning its “Design DoJo: Keeping Design Controls Practical and Compliant” conference Sept. 29-30 in Boulder, CO. Go to http://asq.org/biomed for information on the event. Finally, the second annual Joint Technical Communities Conference—which involves 10 ASQ divisions—will be held Oct. 22-23 in Orlando, FL. Visit http://asqtcconference.com.

NEW CASE STUDY  ASQ’s Knowledge Center has released a new case study about a team at a medical facility in Dubai that uses the find-organize-clarify-understand-select (FOCUS)/plan-do-check-act (PDCA) model to determine root causes of unreported medication errors and identify potential improvements. Read the case study at http://tiny.cc/dubai-asq-case-study.

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