It’s rare when U.S. officials should look to European countries for guidance on less-restrictive industry regulation, but such is the case with commercial drones.
Currently, the United States has some of the industrialized world’s most onerous regulations regarding private-sector use of drones. In a nutshell, virtually all commercial use is illegal. The Federal Aviation Administration is expected to eventually unveil less-restrictive regulations, but those rules aren’t scheduled to be finalized for several more years.
In the meantime, the commercial drone industry is flourishing outside the United States. In September, the FAA authorized six film-making companies to use drones. The Wall Street Journal reported that this decision increased the number of federally approved U.S. commercial drone operators … to eight. In comparison, the Journal noted there are thousands of approved operators in Europe, “including a thriving network of drone middlemen and contractors who use the devices to gather data for clients.” In those countries, “relatively accommodating policies have fueled a commercial-drone boom.”
In Germany, most drone makers are profitable and operate on cash from sales. In the U.S., drone makers and service providers largely rely on venture capital funding “and customers who use the devices against FAA policy.”
Such illegal use of drones in the United States is becoming increasingly common, in part because existing regulations are hardly a model of rational decision-making. Under the FAA regulations, an individual may mount a camera on a drone and shoot photos or video for personal use. But if that same individual does the exact same thing and sells the photos — as is common with wedding and real estate photographers — that person has violated federal regulations and could face significant fines.
This has led many U.S. citizens to either operate illegally or search for loopholes. Luke Pierzina of Aerial Raiders told the Arizona Republic how his business has managed to use drones for real estate photography. “Technically, I can’t charge for any of the flying,” Pierzina said. “I charge for editing.” Forcing businesses to engage in such linguistic gymnastics doesn’t benefit economic growth. Nor does it increase public safety.
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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