The FAA is not going to meet its deadline of September 30 for introducing legislation regarding commercial drone usage. This is particularly disappointing in light of the ongoing rapid adoption of drones, which has both shown a multitude of unexpected benefits as well as highlighted the need for regulation. But the silver lining, considering the widely perceived shortcomings of their proposed rules, is the mere fact that it is taking the FAA so long to address the responses to their proposed rules suggests that these rules may be undergoing dramatic changes.

One of the underlying problems with current federal drone regulation proposals is that this task has been delegated to the FAA, which is out of its element. The FAA’s mandate is limited to safety and security of the airways, thus making 0ther important issues, such as privacy concerns, outside of the purview of the current rule-making body. However, many of these issues are simply too important to be ignored, thus putting the FAA in the awkward position of attempting to adhere to its mandate while also juggling the many other significant impacts drones will have, most of which are outside of its area of expertise. For example, commercial drone usage is predicted to create 100,000 jobs and add $82 billion to the economy within 10 years, presents an opportunity to reduce our carbon footprint and help the environment, and will even save workers’ lives. But none of these things are related to the safety and security of our airwaves, and thus are not technically relevant to the FAA. Clearly though, these factors warrant consideration, and are in turn being considered by the FAA.

Congress also limited the scope of the FAA’s rule-making power to commercial drone usage. Thus, the FAA does not have the power to address the issues presented by recreational drone usage, even as they issues become more commonplace and prominent. Some people even feel that the need for recreational drone regulation surpasses the need to regulate commercial drones, as companies will likely regulate their own drones. Corporations will likely invest the time and resources to train their pilots and ensure that their equipment is functioning properly, which in turn will alleviate many safety concerns. Companies will also likely monitor their equipment and ensure that their equipment is being used properly, which would help mitigate privacy issues. These self-check mechanisms do not exist for recreational drone users, who therefore likely pose substantially greater safety and privacy threats than their commercial counterparts.

The FAA needs to incorporate all these concerns in its final rules, and was way off with its initial proposals. And while it is important that this is done right, it also must be done quickly. The current state of federal drone regulation has enabled states to pass their own drone laws, which in turn are affecting the drone market and shaping drone policy more generally. Hopefully we will receive an update as to the progress of federal drone regulation next week when the FAA formally misses its deadline.

Benjamin Chernow

One Response to Why the FAA failed to meet its deadline

  1. jdrory says:

    With any form of new technology there exists risk as well as a grey area for potential liability due to the lack of clear and established federal regulations. Even though the FAA drone regulation is taking longer than expected drone companies are still getting plenty of money from venture capital firms willing to bet on the risk. According to a report out of Bloomberg early this year, over $210MM in funding had been pumped into drone firms during the first half of the year.