A Nation of Drone Regulation?

Over the course of American history, there have been a countless number of shifts in the role of regulatory bodies and how they function. The most recent change occurred when there was a power shift on January 20th, 2017 – the date of the 45th Presidential Inauguration. This, of course, marked a shift in power in the scope of partisan politics, but it also marked the beginning of an administration determined to make sweeping overhauls. However, in the case of the federal government creating a plan of action towards the future of drone regulations, there is no clear path. It is evident that there is no clear cut solution towards how to implement drone policy in conjunction with the Federal Aviation Administration.

The sales (and subsequent use) of drones in a recreational sense was something that really took off in the past decade. Before the turn of the century, drones were typically the subject of ongoing developmental projects by military personnel of countries across the globe. However, the use of the drones as a recreational gadget just started to grow amongst consumers over the past few years. In fact, sales were estimated to have surpassed one million units during the 2015 fiscal year. As these machines quickly became such an attractive item for consumers to play around with, it became clear that the FAA was not ready for the regulatory issues that came with personal drone usage.

Although the FAA tried to be proactive towards dealing with these issues by setting broad rules and regulations, the requirements that are currently in place are seen as too broad by many. There have also been a great deal of issues that continue to arise with drones being used amongst unlicensed hobbyists. Incidents over the past few years have sparked major debates amongst regulatory bodies and common citizens alike. From August of 2015 to January of 2016 alone, the FAA reported that there were nearly 600 incidents involving drones flying too close to airplanes and airports. There have been concerns of drone usage creating danger and havoc and all types of areas. Obviously, the thing to consider in the scope of this statistic is just how specific this type of incident is. Though this statistic only measures how many cases there were involving commercial air, there were still nearly six-hundred occurrences over a six month period. The issue with drones potentially interfering with commercial aircrafts as well as restricted airspaces is one that should not be taken lightly. However, this is only one of the many issues that is being actively discussed when talking about the regulation of personal drone usage – and regulators in various roles are taking note.

As the drone industry is anticipated to grow into an industry that millions of United States citizens are involved in, this leads the conversation to two questions: Is the federal government going to protect this industry and allow expansion in order to help the sustained success of this industry? If so, what measures will be taken by the FAA and the federal government in terms of regulating airspace and licensing drone operators? This is an issue that the Trump administration has recently began to tackle head on during his first year in office, as President Trump signed a memo which instructed the Department of Transportation to devise a plan to make it easy to fly a drone for commercial use in US airspace. Clearly, the specification of commercial use is incredibly important to recognize, but this is a critical step forward towards the protection of prevalent drone usage in the United States.

The conversation now moves to the FAA and how they will react. They have built a very strong framework that outlines every regulation dealing with commercial airlines, but the influx of rules and modifications to existing regulations in order to address the new shared airspace could lead to huge blowback from the airline industry. It is clear and simple – the airline industry wants no part in a shared airspace with drone users – especially when the requirements to operate a drone are very relaxed (as it stands.) There would need to be a tremendous overhaul to how the FAA regulates personal and commercial drone usage in order to get a general framework agreed upon.

After all, there are large pockets of people who are opposed to any drone usage at all. Obviously, most see the merits of their use for search and rescue missions, but there are a significant amount of people concerned about safety, personal privacy, and general irritations that could come with a country that has drones delivering packages to front doors. Drone usage and industry protection are certainly favored by the current administration, but there are clear hurdles to overcome in order for this industry to be sustainable in the long run. There are no clear paths as to where exactly this industry is heading, but the drone industry certainly holds vast potential in being a major power for the future.


— Matthew Gary

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