FAA Control Over Commercial Drones Is Slipping


Flying Eye \ Wikimedia

Amazon pushed commercial drone use into the limelight last December, but novel drone experimentation doesn't end there. In fact, it is getting very difficult for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to keep the crazy new, controversial, drone technology under wraps. If the agency doesn't update its approach soon the "FAA risks losing the drone war," Politico reports.

Some, like the Minnesota-based beer company Lakemaid, and a Michigan floral company, suspended drone deliveries after the FAA stepped in. But this hasn't wiped drones from the skies. Far from it. Everyone from Martin Scorsese to dry cleaning operations have flouted FAA regulations. Politico describes the development of an underground economy "where rural farmers use drones to monitor crops with little risk of being spotted and where teenagers can use drones to check their neighbors' gutters for a few dollars." Anticipating this trend, an Oregon college is awaiting the state's approval to teach a commercial drone flights courses.

As the drones get cheaper, more and more commercial drones will likely seep through the cracks.

The FAA lags behind its five-year plan to incorporate drones into U.S. airspace. In December it announced the development of six testing arenas, but otherwise, the FAA's approach hasn't evolved much since 2007 when it declared commercial drone use illegal. Although the agency expects to incorporate drones in the long-term, an unconditional ban on the novel technology doesn't seem to be the right approach in the short-term either.

People are getting antsy. Ted Elliot, a former FAA general counsel, told Politico:

Most people want to comply with the FAA rules. But the more the FAA acts like a big daddy, behemoth government agency that is imposing excessive restrictions, the more the feeling of 'I'm an American, they can't tell me what to do' kicks in. And that's a real danger for the FAA.

Some have been taking advantage of lax, or non-existent, drone laws in other countries to try diverse projects. An American man is using drones to collect climate change data in the Peruvian rainforest. RT drone journalism gave its viewers a unique view of the Ukrainian protests. South African beer deliveries, unlike Minnesota's, were not shut down.

Privacy and safety concerns shouldn't be ignored, but FAA could speed things up (perhaps by making some of its deadlines). Demand for drones is growing. And besides, postponing growth and experimentation in the industry cost an enormous $28 million in economic growth per year according to The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems.