Commentary — The FAA has had quite a year: they sued a drone photography company for almost $2 million for breaking the rules; pushed a hobby drone registration program through in record time as a holiday gift to the nation; issued a fact sheet for states asserting their authority over the skies; issued another fact sheet to law enforcement officials in order to encourage action against unregistered drones; engaged in a lawsuit about the aforementioned drone registration program; defended themselves against several OIG reports accusing them of overspending, under managing, and general haplessness; and they’re about to see a big department privatized.
And that’s only in the last few months. What the FAA has not done is to pass the drone regulations that they proposed one year ago into law.
It was 2012 when Congress asked the FAA to integrate drones into the national airspace, and February 2015 before they came up with a basic list of regulations, summarized in a little over a page here. As required, the FAA provided a public comment period, after which the FAA promised to finalize the regulations by September 30, 2015.
On September 30, the only thing the public got was an explanation that the FAA’s “main, overriding goal is safety,” and the excuse that the over 4,500 comments received were too overwhelming to review. Their new delivery estimate was “sometime late spring.” Meanwhile, the sharply curtailed public comment period on the drone registration program (apparently I’m not the only one who didn’t see the holiday season coming, it constituted a national emergency for the FAA, too) generated about the same number of comments – approximately 4,500 – but flew through an approval process to become official by the end of December, a little over 2 months from the idea’s inception.
In vain has the drone industry begged the FAA to finally publish regulations; an industry group letter sent to the FAA in protest of the missed deadline states that “With each passing day that commercial integration is delayed, the US continues to fall behind.” Drone technology has advanced rapidly in the last year, and more and more companies have had to test and implement new programs overseas or risk fines from the FAA. As federal guidelines remain unpublished, state and local legislators have begun responding to public opinion by regulating on their own: the FAA has scrambled to try and prevent local laws from creating an even more confusing regulatory environment.
Now, as the 2016 FAA Reauthorization package (the AIRR Act) works its way through the approval process, complete with proposals for drone integration, it seems more likely that an entirely new proposal will need to be created, commented on, and approved. We can only hope that it won’t be another year before drone regulations are finally published and the industry can move forward confidently with what they do best – finding innovative uses for new drone technology.
Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
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