We’re Not Going to Regulate the Drone Industry Out of Business, Are We?


shutterstock_242529727_dronesI really loved this Politico piece by Marc Andreessen from 2014:

But policymakers shouldn’t be trying to  copy Silicon Valley. Instead, they should be figuring out what domain is (or could be) specific to their region—and then removing the regulatory hurdles for that particular domain. Because we don’t want 50 Silicon Valleys; we want 50 different variations of Silicon Valley, all unique from each other and all focusing on different domains. Imagine a Bitcoin Valley, for instance, where some country fully legalizes cryptocurrencies for all financial functions. Or a Drone Valley, where a particular region removes all legal barriers to flying unmanned aerial vehicles locally. A Driverless Car Valley in a city that allows experimentation with different autonomous car designs, redesigned roadways and safety laws. A Stem Cell Valley. And so on.

I immediately thought of it when reading about “A Silicon Valley for Drones, in North Dakota” from New York Times reporter Quentin Hardy. A fortuitous combination of things is going on there, including: a) the state has a low population density (47th out of 50 states), so if a drone falls from the sky it will probably just hit dirt; b) Grand Forks Air Force Base “flies nothing but robot aircraft for the United States military and Customs and Border Protection”; c) the state spent $34 million on a civilian industrial park for drones near the air base; d) the University of North Dakota, which already trains commercial pilots and air traffic controllers, has a drone controller program; e) there’s a surprising amount of tech talent thanks to business investments from Amazon and Microsoft; f) it’s a rural state. and “rural states with farming, oil and rail lines see many practical reasons to put robots in the sky.”

One thing North Dakota probably isn’t doing is creating strict drone rules that clash with what the FAA recommends:

The F.A.A. said that as the top regulator of airspace, it should handle any bans on flights or permits for drone pilots. The agency released a fact sheet on Dec. 17 on federal laws that would pre-empt local rules. Because the F.A.A. was given that authority by Congress, the agency said, many local or state drone rules would not stand up to a legal challenge. “We believe the state and local government decision makers will benefit from this information, no matter what approach they take,” the F.A.A. said in a statement.

Any rollback by the F.A.A. of local drone regulations would benefit one group: tech companies. Companies such as Amazon and Google have hired dozens of lobbyists over the last year to visit aviation committees on Capitol Hill, explaining their plans to deliver packages and create entirely new segments of entertainment and sports. The companies want a light touch by regulators to help give their drone efforts the widest possible latitude. …

Many local legislators have since called for broader no-fly zones and strict privacy rules around drones. New rules also give local police officers permission to explore ways to take down errant drones without having to ask for permission from the federal authorities.

In Chicago, drones are now prohibited above schools, libraries, churches and private property without permission. In Miami, drones are banned within a half-mile radius of a “large public event,” and the police are able to use jamming technologies to take them down. In Los Angeles, drone users who operate near airports can face up to six months in jail.

And this related Financial Times story suggests a bit of civil disobedience by enthusiasts even to what the FAA is calling for:

The Consumer Technology Association expects 700,000 drones to be sold in the US this year, an increase of almost two-thirds from 2014. But this is the first holiday season in which Americans who received a drone under the Christmas tree are required to register it with the Federal Aviation Administration before flying it, or face civil and criminal penalties.

All drones weighing more than half a pound (227g) must have labels with their FAA registration number. That is much stricter than the UK, where only drones weighing more than 20kg need to be registered with the Civil Aviation Authority. To promote the rules, the FAA released a flurry of Christmas themed drone messages such as: “Rudolph can fly anywhere, but your drone can’t. Register before you fly.”

However, some hobbyist groups have resisted the call for registration. The Academy of Model Aeronautics, the largest model aeroplane group in the US, has instructed its 175,000 members to hold off on registering their model aeroplanes. In a statement, the group said it was concerned about “unnecessary and burdensome regulations”, and pointed out that a court case on the question of whether model aeroplanes should be regulated as “aircraft” by the FAA is still pending.

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  1. Dan Hanson Thatcher
    Dan Hanson

    The FAA`s drone regulations are a serious expansion of their regulatory power, for no good reason.

    For many decades,  model aircraft have been flown without FAA approval under several rational conditions:  that the model stay under 500 feet, that it stay outside of controlled airspace,  and that it not be flown within 3 miles of an airport.  That’s where the FAA’s jurisdiction has always ended,  and that makes total sense as the FAA is responsible for aircraft safety,  and aircraft do not fly below 500 feet around built-up areas unless on approach or takeoff from an airport.

    In my opinion,  the FAA is simply using overblown public hysteria to make a power grab.  The drone scare will allow them to set a precedent that they can regulate damn near anything  that can be launched into the air.

    What exactly are they afraid of?  If they think a drone can be used to deliver a bomb somewhere,  well guess what?  Model airplanes have had that capability for decades.  You can buy a large model jet that can fly hundreds of miles per hour.  As far as I know,  no one has ever been killed or even injured by one.

    Privacy?  Anyone who has ever flown one of these ‘drones’ can tell you that the cameras are designed for wide-angle images,  and the stabilization systems aren’t good enough to allow for telescopic narrow-view imaging.   In addition,  quadcopter drones make a racket and cannot reasonably snoop on anyone in their backyard or through their window without being noticed.  They are a terrible ‘spy’ platform.

    As for collision risks with aircraft – there are tens of thousands of birds flying around for each drone that’s in the air.   There has yet to be a single accident or even a real near miss from a drone outside of controlled airspace, and any near miss near an airport would be covered by already-existing regulations against flying model aircraft in controlled airspace.

    Drones have the potential of revolutionizing some industries and creating completely new ones.  It’s an infant industry full of experimentation,  and we don’t yet know what all the applications might be.  That’s exactly the wrong time to be burdening the industry with painful regulations.

    Drones are revolutionizing film making,  giving small productions the capability of dolly shots,  crane shots, and helicopter shots recently only available to multi-million dollar productions.  They have the potential to seriously cut the costs of pipeline inspections, crop and fence inspections on farms,  and much more.

    The FAA is throwing a serious wrench into one of the more promising new technologies to come along in a long time, with zero evidence that such regulation is necessary at the federal level.

    • #1
  2. Blue State Blues Member
    Blue State Blues

    James Pethokoukis:We’re Not Going to Regulate the Drone Industry Out of Business, Are We?

    More than likely.  Welcome to the Administrative State.  I’d say the FAA is developing a case of EPA envy.

    • #2
  3. RushBabe49 Thatcher

    Probably. It will be interesting to see Amazon pitted against Government (Bezos is a big Liberal).

    • #3
  4. Dan Hanson Thatcher
    Dan Hanson

    Bezos describes himself as a libertarian and has given money to the Reason Foundation,  but he has also supported politicians like Patty Murray and John Conyers,  who are very liberal Democrats.  So I think it’s fair to call him a liberal.

    • #4
  5. Jeff Smith Inactive
    Jeff Smith

    Dan Hansen’s first comment is the best argument I’ve seen for the gubmint to butt out.
    As a still photographer easing out of a 50 year career, the use of my Yuneec Q500 4K flying camera has given me a new creative shot in the arm. There is a new perspective on stills and I’ve gotten interested in video as well.
    Check out:
    http://www.JeffSmithPhoto.Net /Video-Portfolio/

    • #5
  6. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens

    New technologies are going to destroy the 19th century idea the government can control everything.

    3d printers and drones cannot be controlled or stopped. You can make them illegal, but the day is coming when a drone is going to fly into a building and explode. It will happen.

    • #6
  7. Fake John/Jane Galt Coolidge
    Fake John/Jane Galt

    No government will not destroy the drone industry. It will harness the industry and give it to its cronies to suck what money and profit that can be had from it.

    • #7
  8. Blue State Blues Member
    Blue State Blues

    Fake John/Jane Galt:No government will not destroy the drone industry. It will harness the industry and give it to its cronies to suck what money and profit that can be had from it.

    Sounds like destruction to me.

    • #8
  9. Hoyacon Member

    I hope not.  Drones have the potential to make great moving targets.

    • #9
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