THE FLYING OF REMOTE DRONES has become a major domestic policy issue in the United States. Just last month drones made headline news as a federal employee accidentally flew a remote control drone onto the White House grounds, causing a mass security stir and furthering debate on the issue around the country. On February 15, 2015 the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released new regulations for drones with Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx saying, “Technology is advancing at an unprecedented pace and this milestone allows federal regulations and the use of our national airspace to evolve to safely accommodate innovation.” The DOT and FAA also announced a 60 day period for the public to comment on the proposed regulations, which will begin from the date of publication in the Federal Register.
However, the proposed regulations have been met with considerable opposition in the business community as the regulations heavily restrict some potential business applications of drone use, such as delivery services. This prevents some companies, like Amazon.com, from capitalizing on the removal of the current near-ban on flying drones for commercial purposes. Amazon.com has a goal of establishing Amazon Prime Air, a “future delivery system…designed to safely get packages into customers’ hands in 30 minutes or less using small unmanned aerial vehicles.”
Lobbyists representing businesses and supporters of drone technology will use the comment period to persuade lawmakers and regulators that new technologies employed by the drones will make some of the limitations proposed by the DOT and FAA unnecessary. Such technological innovations include allowing drones to “sense and avoid” obstacles including other aircraft and autonomous GPS navigation. Reuters reports that, “Spending on lobbying by special interests that list drones as an issue surged from $20,000 in 2001 to $35 million in 2011 to more than $186 million in 2014, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks lobbying activity.”
However, not everyone is excited about the prospect of an increased amount of unmanned drones flying overhead. A website, NoFlyZone.org, has been created with the goals of letting you establish a no-fly zone over your property. Despite the voluntary basis, a number of drone hardware and software firms have already promised to honor your request including: EHANG, Horizon Hobby, DroneDeploy, YUNEEC, HEXO+, PixiePath and RCFlyMaps.
With the lines drawn, no matter the result, the drone debate is certainly setting itself up to be a highly contested and publicized issue for the coming year.