Just one year ago, the commercial drone community really had it out for the FAA. There didn’t appear to be any progress being made as far as publishing drone regulations and the administration seemed to spend far more time than was necessary chasing innocuous pilots. The blanket ban on flying drones for monetary compensation was frustrating for many.
Today, things are looking a little more positive. The NPRM was published and open to public comment, the COA process is slowly becoming easier and more streamlined, Section 333 exemptions are allowing more people to fly commercial with the FAA’s blessing and the relationship between the administration and drone manufacturers seems to be getting stronger.
This small amount of progress got us imagining what a future -where drones and the low-altitude airspace is regulated and Amazon’s Prime Air is delivering fresh meal pellets and neural implants straight to your door- will look like.
So, we reached out to some experts in current drone law to see what they think the norms will be and what the rules will look like in 2030. Here are some of their responses:
Brendan Schulman, special counsel at Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel, well known for his work with the Raphael ‘Trappy” Pirker case:
Think about the internet 20 years ago compared to today. The first web browsers were just emerging to enhance what had been a text-only information network that only a small number of in-the-know people were using.
Today, we have access to internet capabilities we couldn’t have imagined, and we can access these wildly popular services from our pocket. I think 20 years from now, drone laws will reflect the realization of the enormous potential in unmanned aircraft systems.
As the benefits become clearer, and the technology is more widely used, I think it’s inevitable that laws at both the state and federal level will be more drone-friendly. Today the emerging laws seem to be concerned with limiting use and responding to public misconceptions. In the future I think lawmakers will be interested in helping society get the most out of this technology.
Greg McNeal, Professor at Pepperdine University and frequent contributor to Forbes on the topic of drone regulations:
In 20 years we will see a proliferation of local, state, and federal drone regulations. We will see large drones replacing piloted aircraft for personnel transport, and tiny swarms of drones.
The different use cases meant that drones will come in all shapes and sizes and will prompt different responses from different constituencies.
Drones will be as common as smartphones, and I suspect that we’ll all look back and laugh at the idiocy that’s going on today.Same thing happened when the modern Internet came into being. Hysteria at first, eventual acceptance, followed by can’t live without it.Technology will also improve and drones will be capable of “sense and avoid,” and ATC will be able to track them as they do with manned craft.The law will be clarified, courts will sort out the supposed privacy issues, and states will be expressly barred by federal statute from trying to regulate flight.
Steve Hogan, attorney at Ausely McMullen, publisher of Robotic Aviation:
After the sUAS rule is finished, what’s next? It’s the UAS category, generally. This includes everything heavier than 55 pounds. The UAS category covers everything from a relatively small Yamaha R-MAX to the 150-foot wingspan gliders made by Titan Aerospace.
Integrating these larger models into the National Airspace System will take quite a while. Add to that the issue of how to treat “optionally piloted” aircraft carrying human cargo, and you have a very complex system. Robot pilots on passenger planes are a new frontier.
I think the federal regulatory scheme is better understood as the framework within which we can all work safely. That’s the main thing.
Most of the action in the “drone law” field will take place at the state level. The FAA regulations are all about safety. The FAA’s job is only to determine what a “safe” sUAS / UAS operation will look like. That’s it! That’s their whole job.
However, states have the power to determine what kind of commercial operations are allowed within their borders. Even if the FAA says an operation is “safe,” a state can outlaw it completely.
Some interesting similarities and differences, no? Comparing drones to modern technology we take for granted like the internet and smartphones provides excellent context… if we can’t learn from history we are, as the saying goes, doomed to repeat it (one could make the point that we are, in fact, repeating it at this very moment).
Nobody seems to agree on where the teeth of drone regulation will lie -at the federal, state, or judiciary level- which gives a pretty good indication of the extent to which drafting and enforcing regulations is still up in the air.
What do you think drone regulations will look like in 20 years? Let us know in the comments!
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