US Drone Makers Go Underground As FAA Regulations Still Hang in the Air

Drone regulations, or the lack thereof, are frustrating US drone makers and users alike, thus driving many to circumvent current FAA drone policy and go underground, while rivals in the rest of the world are seeing commercial drones take off to the skies with blessings from authorities and enormous benefits.

The FAA has banned all but a handful of private-sector drones in the U.S. while it completes rules for them, expected in the next several years. That policy has stifled the U.S. drone market and driven operators underground, where it is difficult to find funding, insurance and customers, reported the Wall Street Journal. The FAA said its drone policy reflects concern for the safety of people in the air and on the ground. It rejected any comparison to foreign regulators, saying the U.S. has far more low-flying private planes that are at most risk from drones.

But tempting technology and an eager marketplace are outrunning the aviation agency’s best intentions. Photographers, real estate agents, moviemakers and others are hurrying to embrace the technology. The use of commercial drones, most of them small, is starting to spread to countries where authorities have decided the aircraft presents little threat if operators follow a few safety rules. The drone industry and some members of Congress are worried the United States will be one of the last countries, rather than one of the first, to gain the economic benefits of the technology, an earlier report by Huffington Post said.

Time is of the essence indeed, and it is essential to have clear-cut flying regulations in place soon, as the above article quoted: “We don’t have the luxury of waiting another 20 years,” said Paul McDuffee, vice president of drone-maker Insitu of Bingen, Wash., a subsidiary of Boeing. “This industry is exploding. It’s getting to the point where it may end up happening with or without the FAA’s blessing.” Aside from this is the concern for the safe use of private and commercial drones.

In order to address the clamor for flying drones, individual states have resorted to coming up with their respective drone regulations.

Two states have sought to regulate private use of drones by addressing where they can fly. Last year, Oregon enacted a law that allows property owlaners to sue a drone operator if (1) a drone has flown less than 400 feet above the owner’s property at least once, (2) the property owner has told the drone operator that he/she does not consent to the drone flying over his/her property, and (3) the operator then flies the drone less than 400 feet above the property again. Tennessee also seeks to restrict drones from flying over private property, but has done so in a different way. In contrast to these two states’ focus on drone flight, most states that have enacted laws on private drone use have sought to limit who, when and where drones film and photograph. Read more here

With regards to this, it is said there are some approaches policymakers can use in crafting drone regulations. As policymakers consider drone regulation – particularly with respect to privacy and safety – the possible fields of regulation fall into five principal realms: operators, flight, purpose, property and surreptitious use. Some of these categories face practical difficulties, while others present constitutional issues. Nevertheless, these five fields offer a framework to help make sense of the legislation and regulation emerging around the use of drones.

One opinion article observed that drone users were largely not as vocal as they should be regarding FAA rules that may limit flights. Is it possible they have been scared into silence and are not participating in the regulatory process for fear of revealing themselves to government regulators? It’s a legitimate concern, just consider the fact that the FAA has spent the last few months cracking down on realtors. Given such an enforcement climate, it’s understandable that some commercial users would not want to reveal their identity by commenting on a regulation.

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