We have been discussing the increasing popularity and availability of unmanned aerial vehicles -- aka UAVs or drones -- and the Federal Aviation Administration's attempts to regulate their use. The FAA has been slow to develop regulations for UAVs, but, as we said in our Nov. 21 post, the agency should publish rules for smaller (<55 lbs.) commercial drones in the next few weeks. (The federal government does not regulate UAVs used for "hobby or recreational reasons.")
Proposing rules, of course, is just part of the process. The drafts will go through at least one comment period and then revisions before the FAA formally adopts them. In the meantime, commercial drones are officially banned unless the FAA has approved a company's special request. Just this week, in fact, the FAA gave 13 companies permission to use UAVs for specific purposes.
Critics say that the U.S. is falling behind other countries in putting drones to use for private and public purposes. More importantly, the current situation is tying the hands of researchers that are working on improving the technology, working to make UAVs safer for commercial use. Other countries could quickly gain the competitive advantage.
The FAA responds to these concerns with some rough statistics. First, our skies are busier than the skies of any other country. Adding drones to the crowd of planes and other aircraft in our airspace without careful planning would be irresponsible. Second, there are enough reports of drones near planes and airports -- about 25 a month, the FAA says -- to underscore the importance of getting the rules right.
For all the fuss, it was only recently that the National Transportation Safety Board confirmed that the FAA actually could regulate drones. We'll explain in our next post.
Insurance Journal, "Safety Board Upholds FAA Regulation of Drones," Alan Levin, Nov. 18, 2014
Insurance Journal, "Delay in Drone Rules Jeopardizes Research, Competitiveness, Congress Told," Joan Lowy, Dec. 12, 2014