Washington, DC – The 2-year-old boy was missing for five days in southwest Texas in March 2012, and the Davis family called on the search and rescue organization Texas EquuSearch to help find the child. A member of EquuSearch decided to use a 5-pound plastic foam drone to take photos of the area, and after a search team member reviewed the images taken by the drone, the boy’s body was found in alligator-infested waters. Kayakers had paddled nearby and others had walked by the area but couldn’t see the body hidden by the reeds.
But on Feb. 21, the Federal Aviation Administration asked EquuSearch to stop using drones, citing a 2007 rule that grants hobbyists the right to fly. Any other use is forbidden.
That next month, the group took the FAA to court, arguing that drones should be allowed for humanitarian purposes.
Drone users and would-be users gathered at the National Press Club on Wednesday to urge the government to issue rules for what they hope will be a booming business.
The EquuSearch case is the second time the FAA was sued over civilian drone use. In March, Brendan Schulman, a New York-based attorney, won a case against the FAA in which he argued the agency didn’t have the legal right to fine a drone pilot. The judge granted a dismissal, and the FAA appealed the decision the next day.
Drone law remains in the air.
“We’re at the dawn of a revolution in technology,” Schulman said during the panel discussion about drones.
Pressure is coming from other industries as well. On Friday, Amazon hired the Washington-based lobbying firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld to help sell its drone-based delivery service Amazon Prime Air to Congress.
Current regulations were written with air passenger safety in mind without any rules for unmanned aircraft. Because of that, there isn’t any delineation between a drone that weighs an ounce and one that is the size of a passenger jet, Schulman said.
Ben Gielow, counsel and government relations manager at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, said that without definition the national air space becomes “the wild west.”
He cited an AUVSI report that said once civilian drone technology is green-lighted thousands of jobs would be created.
“How many industries are begging the government to start regulating them?” Gielow said during the discussion.
Schulman said he hopes the FAA will release rules for small, unmanned aerial vehicles by the end of 2014. A short public comment period will follow, and then the rules will need to be approved by the Department of Transportation and the White House Office of Management and Budget.
“The FAA is years behind,” Gielow said.
Alan is serial entrepreneur, active angel investor, and a drone enthusiast. He co-founded DRONELIFE.com to address the emerging commercial market for drones and drone technology. Prior to DRONELIFE.com, Alan co-founded Where.com, ThinkingScreen Media, and Nurse.com. Recently, Alan has co-founded Crowditz.com, a leader in Equity Crowdfunding Data, Analytics, and Insights. Alan can be reached at alan(at)dronelife.com