Fifteen of the first 500 FAA exemptions permitting commercial drones to fly were granted in Colorado.
But enabling those and other waiting businesses to spur an estimated $232 million in economic impact — and create more than 1,190 jobs — in Colorado by 2017 hinges on long-delayed rules based on a 1946 U.S. Supreme Court case filed by a poultry farmer.
Yes, that’s right. Regulation of high-tech drones in the U.S. starts with chickens.
Under current aviation law, aircraft must fly no lower than 1,000 feet above congested population areas, and at least 500 feet above less-populated areas.
But there are no permanent regulations for commercial unmanned aircraft systems, or drones. The vehicles are illegal to fly in the national air space without a Federal Aviation Administration permit called a Section 333 Exemption. The permit allows drones to fly commercially as long as they fly in daylight, no higher than 500 feet and within the operator’s line of sight.
The delay in deploying regulations that have been discussed for more than five years is frustrating companies in Colorado, and elsewhere, that use drones for such diverse tasks as delivering packages, and surveying real estate, oil and gas wells and farm fields.
Congress told the FAA in 2012 to enact permanent rules on drone safety and manufacturing by Sept. 30, but the agency is only now reviewing comments on a draft submitted in March and is expected to miss the deadline.
Meanwhile, the FAA last week approved its 1,000th exemption, suggesting the lack of solid regulation could be stifling an industry ready to soar, says the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, or AUVSI.
“The number of applicants continues to greatly outpace approvals,” an AUVSI report released last week says. “The flood of commercial exemption requests to the FAA shows that a mature UAS commercial market is waiting to be unleashed.”
The FAA did not return repeated calls and e-mails requesting additional data.
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