US Chemical Industry Concerned About Drones

In response to the soaring use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), the official name for drones, the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has proposed a new set of rules in the hope of resolving some of the issues surrounding their use.

While saying the agency is “off to a good start,” the American Chemistry Council (ACC) has offered suggestions on how to improve the proposal, especially where it concerns the safety of chemical facilities.

The association representing US-based chemical producers has recommended what it says are “four critical modifications” to help safeguard people and production facilities.

ACC’s first recommendation is to broaden the definition of UAS to protect chemical facilities from other model aircraft that pose a safety and security risk, as it says the aviation authority’s current proposal would not apply to model aircraft or casual use of drones in and around critical infrastructure.

Use of such aircraft around chemical facilities “can pose a significant safety and security concern that the FAA must address,” the organization says, as “due to their small size, maneuverability, affordability and load-capacities, small UAS may be used intentionally by criminals and terrorists to commit criminal or terrorist acts, including unauthorized surveillance and the introduction of explosive devices at critical infrastructure facilities.”

At the same time, ACC would like to see the rules revised so as to allow chemical plant employees and contractors to employ drones to replace risky manual inspections of equipment that would otherwise be difficult to reach. In this way, it says, staff could survey equipment in hazardous operating or environmental conditions from a safe distance, which significantly reduces potential health and safety risks.

The chemical producers also would like the FAA to amend its proposal to vet individuals before they are allowed to fly UAS. Employees and contractors who already have undergone extensive background checks in order to perform their jobs should be exempted, it believes, as duplication would be costly, and unnecessary.

In its fourth proposal, ACC says chemical producers should not be required to notify the FAA of accidents with drones if they are already required to report the accident to the US Occupational and Safety Authority (OSHA).

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