Drone Regulations Fail To Launch

Susan Crawford knocks the FAA for claiming authority to regulate commercial drones but never writing any actual rules:

The Federal Aviation Administration has been asserting for years that it has broad authority over drones but hasn’t been able to come up with any rules covering their use. That didn’t stop the agency from fining a 29-year-old Swiss man, Raphael “Trappy” Pinker, for flying a Styrofoam drone over the University of Virginia. The FAA said that Trappy’s stunt, carried out in the course of filming an advertisement for the university’s medical school, amounted to a dangerous airplane flight. Last week, however, the National Transportation Safety Board declared that the agency couldn’t bar the commercial use of drones without conducting an official rule-making process.

Back in 2012, Congress told the FAA to put guidelines in place by 2013 and have a plan for detailed drone regulation by 2015. The agency will miss both of those deadlines. And its dithering has put it in an awkward legal position: The FAA may have ample potential legal authority over drones, particularly when it comes to safety, but its inability to hammer out the details is keeping it from taking a stand on their commercial use.

Josh Marshall expects drones to require a new approach to air traffic:

What interests me just as much as the privacy dimension, however, is how the proliferation of drones is about to completely challenge the way we keep flying objects safe in the air and change fundamentally how we manage air traffic. … There will just be too many things flying around and too many not under any kind of direct human control. So the FAA is in the midst of planning a new system in which every flying object or nearly every flying object has to have technology on board which constant sends out GPS-based notifications about where it is.

Frederic Lardinois thinks the ruling could encourage the administration to move faster:

For the time being, then, the legal situation around drones remains as murky as ever. While it seems plenty of real estate companies are shooting photos of houses from small quadcopters and they remain in heavy use for video production and other uses, the FAA continues to argue that commercial drone usage is essentially illegal.

Because it’s perfectly okay to fly these same small drones for non-commercial reasons (though the FAA would prefer it if people at least followed a few common-sense guidelines), the FAA seems somewhat out of step with reality on this issue.

The FAA wasn’t expected to make any rules for commercial drone usage before the end of 2015. Maybe all this activity around this court case now will get it to speed up the process a bit.