Drones

Who Will Be Screwed Over by the FAA's New Drone Rules?

The precautionary principle strikes again.

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The taco copter remains a pipe dream.
Credit: Richard Unten / photo on flickr

What's a holiday weekend without a load of proposed federal regulations being dumped on an unwitting populace? On Sunday the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released its proposal on how exactly it will allow small drones—or Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS)—to be used for private and business purposes in American airspace.

The summary of proposed rules can be viewed here (pdf). Some of the highlights:

  • Drones must weigh less than 55 pounds.
  • The operator must remain within visual line of sight of the drone. No, binoculars don't count.
  • They can only operate in the daylight.
  • Drones must stay below 500 feet.
  • Drone operators would have to pass an aeronautical exam and retake the test every two years.
  • Background checks of some sort would be required for drone operators
  • Aircraft markings mandated for identification purposes.

The immediate, obvious analysis of the new rules is that it completely quashes any proposal to use drones for deliveries. Amazon had announced efforts to turn to drones to facilitate shipments. It would not be able to do so under these proposed rules. USA Today contacted Amazon, and the company reaffirmed its commitment to drone deliveries, but perhaps not here in the United States:

Paul Misener, Amazon vice president for global policy, said the FAA's proposed new rules "wouldn't allow Prime Air to operate in the United States." Prime Air is the name of Amazon's developmental program for drone delivery.

Amazon's Misner called for rules that would address Amazon's plan for using drones to deliver packages.

"The FAA needs to begin and expeditiously complete the formal process to address the needs of our business, and ultimately our customers," he said. "We are committed to realizing our vision for Prime Air and are prepared to deploy where we have the regulatory support we need."

It looks like the precautionary principle in action, which should come as no surprise when dealing with federal regulators. Rather than seeing whether drone deliveries cause actual public safety hazards before instituting restrictions, the FAA is regulating out of fear of what harms may (or may not) come. Adam Thierer of the Technology Liberation Front blog notes, "You can't read through these 200 pages of regulations without getting sense that the FAA still wishes that private drones would just go away," and worries about the regulations' impact not on Amazon so much as smaller, innovative companies that would need drones as part of its central business model:

But what I worry about more are all the small 'Mom-and-Pop' drone entrepreneur, who want to use airspace as a platform for open, creative innovation. These folks are out there but they don't have the name or the resources to weather these restrictions the way that Amazon can. After all, if Amazon has to abandon same-day drone delivery because of the FAA rules, the company will still have a thriving commercial operation to fall back on. But all those small, nameless drone innovators currently experimenting with new, unforeseeable innovations may not be so lucky.

At the same time that the FAA released these new proposed rules, the White House released a memo to also set up some data retention and privacy guidelines for the federal government's own use of drones. Those rules can be read here, but to summarize, they would require the feds to comply with applicable laws and authorizations, as well as the Privacy Act of 1974.

Below, Reason TV on the many potential useful private uses for drones:

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  1. “but perhaps not here in the United States:”

    And the regulatory machine continues to push all economic activity offshore.

    1. Hmm, they might be able to offer a thriving delivery business in border towns by operating in Mexico.

      1. And serving customers in Mexico exclusively, since they won’t be able to fly in this country.

        1. Not legally. But you try policing the border for tiny objects that fly close to 100mph. This is way better than the drug catapult.

          1. I get it! A border interdiction killer! Nice….

  2. Drone operators would have to pass an aeronautical exam and retake the test every two years.

    Background checks of some sort would be required for drone operators

    All for public safety, naturally. I can’t think of a single other reason to enact these requirements.

    1. I think the background check requirement is a plain violation of due process. Its ex post facto punishment, by adding denial of a drone license to your punishment for whatever’s on your background check, months or years after you were convicted and punished.

  3. “Who Will Be Screwed Over by the FAA’s New Drone Rules?”

    Everyone.

    1. Not the FAA ‘crats.

  4. What’s frustrating about trying to discuss this elsewhere is the ingrained meme that, of course, government should step in *before* a problem that needs the heavy hand of government to solve arises.

    People on Ars Technica are all ‘well, these seem like sensible regulations’ – none of them seem to understand that these regulations *lock-in* modes of conduct and disallow any others, without any evidence that those other modes will cause harm.

    1. proactive government is just as bad as a reactionary government.

    2. I have noticed that so long as you prepend the word “sensible”, any regulation also becomes tolerable and even desirable. I mean, you’re a reasonable man, right? Don’t you like these reasonable regulations? For a magazine called Reason …

      1. Drink! Kinda early, but what he hell…

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  6. Please note dear writers for Reason, the publication of rules for visual line of sight only operations now does not preclude the publication of rules for beyond line of sight operations in the future.

    The FAA has chosen to publish the easy stuff first. These rules are viewed as being pretty wide open. The fear in the industry was that the FAA will require a pilot’s license, not a simple operator’s license even in VLOS operations.

    1. Perhaps there is some important distinction here that I’m not aware of, but I don’t recall these regulations being necessary back when we called short range, VLOS drones “RC helicopters”. Do we really need aviation exams to operate technology that now has an exciting new name?

      1. So, the FAA issued a blanket ban on commercial uses of drones. They are now issuing exemptions on a case by case basis.

        Non-commercial uses of drones are still covered by existing rules for remote controlled aircraft.

        The proposed rules would allow commercial use of drones up to 55 lbs below 500 ft AGL without a full pilot’s license.

        1. From the link provided above on the draft rule:

          Proposed rule would not apply to model aircraft that satisfy all of the
          criteria specified in Section 336 of Public Law 112-95.

    2. the publication of rules for visual line of sight only operations now does not preclude the publication of rules for beyond line of sight operations in the future.

      Of course, the publication of the most onerous rules does not preclude the repeal of those rules in the future, so what are you complaining about? Is that your line or reasoning, here?

      Not buying it. Just to start with, who is going to invest in developing these non-LOS drones when they are illegal to fly? On the speculation that maybe someday they’ll be legal?

      1. Just to start with, who is going to invest in developing these non-LOS drones when they are illegal to fly?

        You mean besides the companies that produce the dozens of UAVs that already exist in the military and civil government applications?

        You mean besides Amazon, Google, and Facebook?

        You mean besides the people building VLOS UAVs that want to move upmarket into BLOS applications?

        So the FAA is developing the regulations for beyond line of sight operations as well sit here and type.

        The regulations for VLOS operations were not expected and were a surprise publication over the weekend.

        Good question.

        1. I note that all the development activity you reference happened before the FAA outlawed those drones.

          So it really doesn’t answer my point, at all.

          So the FAA is developing the regulations for beyond line of sight operations

          If and when they publish them, we can talk.

      2. There are many reports of varying trustworthiness out there that attempt to estimate the size of the BLOS market.

        $100M cumulative over the next 10 years is not unreasonable.

        1. Of course, the next Elon Musk could show up and spend a $100M chasing a market that only exists in his or her head at this time.

          1. You mean someone is going to demand tax credits to develop “green” drones?

          2. No one will spend $100m chasing a market that has ALREADY BEEN REGULATED AGAINST!! Yeah, a visionary might do so for a market that the government is behind, but not one the government is already AGAINST.

            1. I was unaware that the auto industry was unregulated.

            2. I believe that driverless cars are being developed even though most all states don’t allow them on the roads (I think 2 do now)….

              Drug dealers have spent billions chasing markets that were 100% illegal.

              Your theory holds no water at all. None.

      3. Is that your line or reasoning, here?

        Standard disclaimers: regulation bad; FAA should not exist; the airspace could be managed without government edict.

        This is another bullhit article written by someone that read a headline, but knows almost nothing about the subject matter.

        Amazon is already blocked from doing what Amazon wants to do which is why they are testing outside the US.

        The proposed rules that were published over the weekend change that not one bit.

        The rules Amazon needs to do what Amazon wants to do are already in development and are anticipated to be published in 2 to 3 years.

        This kind of article worries me that all the articles posted by Reason are written by people that don’t actually know what they are talking about.

        1. The rules Amazon needs to do what Amazon wants to do are already in development and are anticipated to be published in 2 to 3 years.

          Oh, well, that’s alright then. Our dedicated public servants are obviously working around the clock on this.

        2. Amazon is already blocked from doing what Amazon wants to do which is why they are testing outside the US.

          The proposed rules that were published over the weekend change that not one bit.

          I fail to see how a government decree that entrenches a previous government decree is in any way an improvement, or something the be celebrated, or indeed deserves anything but scorn.

          1. So why is it when I explain that the author of an article is misrepresenting the rules that exist and the rules are under development does everyone think that I endorse those rules?

            1. because of statements such as the following:

              “The FAA has chosen to publish the easy stuff first. These rules are viewed as being pretty wide open.”

              I think it stands to reason that if someone thinks the rules are pretty wide open, and ‘easy’, they are probably in favour of those rules.

              1. These rules are viewed as being pretty wide open.

                ARE VIEWED . . sorry I left out by the fucking aviation industry

              2. The Obama administration says you have to have a 4-year degree to babysit a toddler, but the FAA just said a 17-year-old who passes the equivalent of a driver’s license test can fly a 55 lb UAV over an oil rig to do remote inspections.

        3. EVERY article published by Koch’s payee’s are written by folks who don’t know what they are talking about!

          The problem is that you only see it clearly when they write about something you (or I or anyone) knows much more about.

          Reason starts with a conclusion and then – for Koch and other $$$ – publishes words that back up the foregone conclusion. Obamacare bad. FAA bad. Gubment rules bad. Pot good. Sex for money great.

          That’s about all of it in a nutshell.

        4. no, no, the FAA, up until this whole drone thing, had always been pretty reasonable.

          Why all of a sudden they’re being dicks I don’t know… I mean, I DO know, typical government cronyism, trying to give themselves more jobs, but you know what I mean, all the older pilot license stuff was always reasonable.

  7. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., called for more business-friendly rules. “These FAA rules are a solid first step but need a lot more refining. … The inclusion of the rule that drones must be flown within the operator’s line of sight appears to be a concerning limitation on commercial usage; I urge the FAA to modify that as these rules are finalized.”

    Jesus, when Chuck “Republicans are intentionally sabotaging their own businesses to make Obama look bad” Schumer thinks it’s too much…

    I think that commercial drone usage would be a fantastic way to save on labor costs and a great engine of economic growth. Truly a pity how things are these days.

    1. He just wants to lock in privileges for his cronies, once the restrictive baseline rules have been set. S.O.P. for these corrupt cronyites.

    2. Wait, Kinnath is more statist than BitchTits?

      1. wtf?

        Since when is explaining the regulations as the fucking exist today an endorsement of those regulations?

        1. Okay….I’ll bite. Do you endorse the regulations, or are you opposed to them?

          1. The proper solution is to wait for a drone operator to kill someone and then let the lawyers start suing people.

  8. I am deeply skeptical of the real world utility of consumer delivery systems based on drones, but (as I own no Amazon shares) I would be perfectly willing to see Bezos piss away a few billion trying to make it work. I have no doubt the technology will be greatly advanced.

    1. I would rather toss my billions at printing technology and skip this “drone” nonsense altogether.

    2. I’m with you.

      If he spends a few B on it, likely 10 different workable ideas will come from it, each one causing lots of economic activity.

    3. So explain carefully why a drone from a shop 2 miles down the road from me can’t eventually deliver me 1/2 and 1/2 instead of me driving a 3500 lbs machine there and back?

      If you looked at this with an open mind, you’d think it was ridiculous that we get in dino-fueled two ton machines with 12,000 fine parts and built roads to get there and plowed the roads and repaired them….and had to drive to get the stuff…..

      I think drone delivery will eventually be decentralized and that the routes will largely follow public roads.

      Do you really think that folks 100 years ago could imagine jetliners full of people and freight taking off every second and flying over populated areas?

      Of course not! That’s why this world needs thinkers. I don’t own Amazon either but I’m certain stuff is coming to my house by drone sometime in my remaining years…and what is a driverless car other than a wheeled drone? Do you also think there will not be driverless cars? You better tell apple, google and tesla about that…..because they must be fools and you must be Einstein.

    4. Package delivery? Yeah, of course not that feasible

      but what about all those bike messengers in NYC? They could easily be replaced by drones, and then they could all stop fucking dying and fucking up everyone else’s cars or running into pedestrians

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  11. But, at the present, the drone operators are flying them in restricted airspace around airports. What happens when a commercial airliner is downed when a drone gets sucked in one engine on approach to landing? That will liven up cockpit activity!

    1. Libertarians believe that this won’t happen. People will be responsible if you just shrink gubment and do away with regulations. Libertarians believe we should all be able to fly 500 lb drones…if we can build them, we should be able to fly them.

      Libertarians believe that the FAA has not established the safest air travel – or, in fact, safest form of ANY travel…in history. Instead, they believe it’s bad bad big gubment at work.

      Libertarians are against everything except pot and porn. It doesn’t matter to them that most everyone involved in the drone industry is happy with the projected rules. They know better…because they are libertarians and libertarians are privy to special knowledge.

  12. I think a bigger question is: to what degree are drones allowed to violate property rights.

    Remember that the primary purpose of the FAA is to allow airlines to violate the airspace over private property, and to do so regardless of whether they are creating a nuisance.

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