January 26, 2022

West Virginia's Efforts to Welcome the Drone Industry Are Commendable

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West Virginia Senate Economic Development Committee

Chair Swope, Vice Chair Martin, and members of the committee:

Good afternoon, and thank you for the invitation to testify today. My name is Brent Skorup, and I am a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, where I focus on tech and transportation law. I serve on the Texas passenger drone advisory committee, and I served as a drone law adviser to the Virginia Department of Aviation.

Long-distance drone services, such as home delivery, medical delivery, surveying, and utility, gas, and rail line inspections, are being tested around the United States and around the globe. Some West Virginia agencies, in fact, have contracted with drone companies to bring efficiency and financial savings to the state, and by my count, at least three West Virginia colleges and community colleges have drone workforce programs.

These are great developments. However, restrictive federal and state policies drive many drone companies to test services outside the United States. Manna, for example, is a drone services company that is making hundreds of autonomous drone deliveries daily in Galway, Ireland. Company representatives say one of their employees can make 10 deliveries in the time it takes a driver to make 1 delivery. The company is growing and expanding to Canada and Europe, but not to the United States because of restrictive policies in the United States. Namely, federal drone rules move slowly, and many state leaders unfortunately believe that there is little they can do in drone policy.

For that reason, I commend this committee for prioritizing drone commerce in West Virginia. I author a periodic report ranking all 50 states on their commercial “drone readiness.” I applaud West Virginia for the creation of a drone advisory council to advise lawmakers on future developments, on how to protect residents’ property rights while taking a prudent yet permissive approach to drone flights that are high enough to not bother residents, and on how to provide a pathway for federal and state transportation officials to promote drone competition and “drone highways” throughout the state.

With those policy changes, in my scorecard, West Virginia would leapfrog from near the bottom of my rankings to number 1. That would be a home run for this state in the drone ball game.

Drone commerce is a fast-growing sector with enormous potential to benefit local and state economies. This means, keeping to my analogy, that policymakers and entrepreneurs are just playing the first inning. As this committee works to bring new drone services and drone jobs to West Virginia, it is also securing an early and enduring advantage in the innovation race before us. Thank you for the invitation. I look forward to answering any questions.

Attachment

Which States Are Prepared for the Drone Industry? A 50-State Report Card, Release 2.0” (Mercatus Research)