FAA’s Regulatory Excess & Delays are Hampering the U.S. Drone Industry

A few years ago, FAA grabbed control of the U.S. drone industry, primarily as a project to apply excess employee resources. FAA has since banned most drone uses in the U.S., and the nascent industry is foundering while FAA falls behind in the development of industry rules. U.S. operators have been driven underground; their ability to locate funding or procure insurance is impacted, and potential customers are deterred by FAA’s daunting (though arbitrary) rules.

Meanwhile, a commercial-drone boom is happening outside the U.S., where national policies are much more accommodating. Take Germany, for example. One of the largest players is Service-drone.de GmbH, in Berlin. The company has sold more than 400 drone systems and has more than twenty employees. Their website offers some excellent examples of efficient drone applications such as photogrammetric mapping and powerline construction and maintenance. Here are two embedded videos showing use of an octocopter:

Here is a short excerpt, from the start of Jack Nicas’ Wall Street Journal article:

In four years, Service-drone.de GmbH has emerged as a promising player here in the rapidly expanding commercial-drone industry. The 20-employee startup has sold more than 400 unmanned aircraft to private-sector companies and currently is pitching its fourth-generation device.
Over the same period, Seattle-based Applewhite Aero has struggled to get permission from the Federal Aviation Administration just to fly its drones, which are designed for crop monitoring. The company, founded the same year as Service-drone, has test-flown only one of its four aircraft, and is now moving some operations to Canada, where getting flight clearance is easier.
“We had to petition the FAA to not carry the aircraft manual onboard,” said Applewhite founder Paul Applewhite. “I mean, who’s supposed to read it?” Mr. Applewhite, like many of his U.S. peers, fears the drone industry “is moving past the U.S., and we’re just getting left behind.”

As presented in the article, FAA says 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….”

This is ridiculous. If FAA really cared about safety, they would be accelerating deployment of drones to eliminate unsafe helicopter uses, such as pipeline surveys. Plus, the altitudes needed for drones are safely underneath the altitudes used by regular aircraft. Frankly, the only possible traffic for these drones would be low-flying helicopters, which are flying unsafely if they are in fact cruising within a few hundred feet of the ground. FAA could regulate these helicopters — and needs to, which would also reduce noise impacts (e.g., see the helicopter problems on Long Island, NY or near Palos Verdes, CA).

So, in the larger analysis, FAA is continuing to refuse to properly regulate helicopters, and FAA is impeding drone development, all of which sustains the status quo for aviation today in the U.S.

As one drone retailer in Liberty, TX said: “It’ll reach a point of no return where American companies won’t ever be able to catch up. The U.S. is definitely falling behind.”