By: Tim Kenneally
No, it is not a science fiction movie, but the folks on Capitol Hill are discussing a robot invasion – of our airspace. Since the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued notice of its revised regulations for Unmanned Aircraft Systems (a/k/a drones) in December 2015, over 300,000 people have registered their drones with the FAA1. However, hundreds of thousands more drones are likely in need of registration2. In the wake of the new regulations and the registration frenzy, proponents and opponents of the changes in the law have flocked to the halls of government to voice criticisms and lobby for change. While there is not much consensus among the interest groups, all seem to agree that clearer guidance is needed regarding drone usage.
Congress authorizes policy priorities and funding for the FAA every few years. As of March 31, 2016, the FAA’s “authorization” from Congress has expired, and its reauthorization is taking center stage in the Drone war. Businesses seeking to expand commercial use of drones are hoping to use this reauthorization process to promote their interests. Advocates hope to convince Congress to lessen or eliminate current restrictions on flying in heavily populated areas and beyond the line of sight. However, air safety concerns have thus far taken precedent over economic growth. The proponents of safety are many and vocal. Take for example those in the State of Florida who voted in favor of an anti-drone bill and who have deemed drones “dangerous instruments.”3 Given these conflicting interests, we expect Congress to move cautiously. Those eager to get started in the drone business should speak to those knowledgeable about the current regulatory scheme and the expected changes that lie on the horizon.
Caution or not, there are billions of commercial dollars and massive commercial growth in drones. Those seeking to garner a share of the pie will want to put together a solid business plan with the assistance of knowledgeable and determined legal representation.