The FAA has consistently overblown safety concerns surrounding drones to justify its glacial pace and micro-managerial regulations

In November, American voters chose a new direction for the federal government. One of many areas of federal policy desperately in need of a new course is the regulation of small commercial drones. In the not-so-distant future, drones delivering crucial medical equipment to the scene of a crash or lifesaving supplies to families stranded by natural disasters could be commonplace.

That is, if regulators don’t send such innovations the way of the dodo before they take flight.

Alarmed by largely hypothetical safety concerns, bureaucrats at the Federal Aviation Administration have spent years erecting regulatory barriers that have delayed that future. Until just a few months ago, it was FAA policy that commercial-drone activity of any kind was illegal unless the operator first applied for and received special permission in the form of a “Section 333” waiver. Such waivers took months to process.

The FAA promises new rules authorizing such practices… someday. For now, entrepreneurs and innovators must continue to apply for waivers and wait months to learn if the government will let them fly. The FAA has set itself up as the gatekeeper to the market, controlling the pace and direction of innovation and picking the players allowed to compete.

This approach is untenable. Companies have learned the hard way the consequences of government meddling.

The FAA validly points to real safety concerns in developing and deploying drone technologies. Nobody wants to see aircraft collisions, peeping-toms, assaults, or any other illegal conduct involving drones. Consequently, some sensible regulations such as altitude restrictions are in order.

But the FAA has consistently overblown certain safety concerns surrounding drones to justify its glacial pace and micro-managerial regulations. And it has ignored pre-existing, technology-agnostic laws that address many of the purported harms and risks of drones.

What’s needed now is a wholesale reevaluation of the FAA’s regulatory approach to commercial drone operations. The new administration should restrain and refocus the FAA’s regulatory efforts to addressing real and truly unique harms that emerge in the course of market-driven innovation – provided that existing criminal, tort, property, product liability, and privacy laws do not already address them – rather than attempt to predict the future and regulate in advance.

I am sure that many dronepreneurs and investors will agree with this article which was written by Jason Snead who is a policy analyst in The Heritage Foundation’s Edwin Meese III Center for Legal and Judicial Studies, where co-author John-Michael Seibler is a legal fellow.
There are some larger points here.
First, Elaine Chao, the nominee for Secretary of the Department of Transportation – which as a keen student of org charts you know oversees the FAA – has spent the past eight years since the Bush administration left town at the Heritage Foundation. So this article is as one DC insider terms it “a playbook.”
Second, the FAA is under considerable fire from the DOT Inspector General for their handling of drones over the past few years.
Given how much is on Ms. Chao’s desk, including developing a plan for a US$1B infrastructure spend, autonomous vehicles and the entire FAA Reauthorization for 2017, the real question is when she will get to drones. You could argue that the new administration would be open to the lobbying of Google and Amazon but given the way the campaign went, that’s not necessarily true. And given the POTUS-E’s attitude towards China, DJI is also unlikely to have much influence either. So it’s not immediately apparent to me who will lead the charge to make this is a priority.
We’ll see how long Mr. Huerta will hold out or hang out. I suspect that at 800 Independence the attitude very much is that administrations come and go, whilst the FAA endures.



This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.