Anti-Regulatory Push by Trump Threatens Commercial Drone Industry, Advocates Fear

Without new regulations permitting UAV flights over people, commercial drone applications remain in limbo.

WASHINGTON – An order this week by President Trump to reduce regulations on small businesses could quash the application of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for commercial use, drone industry advocates say.

The order Monday (Jan. 30) put on hold all new regulations by federal agencies, pending a review by the White House, and requires the cost of any new regulations be balanced through the repeal of at least two old regulations.

The fledgling commercial drone industry has been waiting for the Federal Aviation Administration to develop standards for allowing drone flights over people, which is considered a key step in the growth of the industry. Without the FAA’s ability to introduce new provisions, the Trump administration’s anti-regulatory push puts in danger the use of UAVs for automated unmanned package delivery, utilities and agriculture inspections, among other applications. 

Currently, almost all drone flights over people’s heads are prohibited due to concerns that the craft are not reliable enough and could plunge into crowds and cause injuries. A regulation allowing flights over people is needed before they could be used for a wide range of commercial activities in populated areas.

The FAA’s first comprehensive drone regulations took effect in August, allowing flights of drones weighing up to 55 pounds without the case-by-case review that was required previously. The generally approved flights can be up to 400 feet in the air in uncrowded areas during the day within sight of the pilot.

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Michael Drobac, director of the Small UAV Coalition, told USA Today the proposed rule for flying over people had been expected in December, but that didn’t happen.

“If you can’t operate over people, it dramatically limits the future for commercial drones in the U.S.,” Drobac said.

Elaine Chao’s confirmation Tuesday as secretary of transportation opened the door to filling posts and reviewing regulatory proposals, USA Today reported.

Brian Wynne, CEO of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, told the newspaper the industry looks forward to collaborating with Chao on “a favorable policy environment for the unmanned systems industry and work to safely integrate unmanned aircraft systems into the national airspace.”

Wynne’s group suggests the commercial drone industry could create 100,000 jobs and generate more than $82 billion in economy activity during the next 10 years.

“Sustained industry-government collaboration is key to advancing the innovation needed to create jobs and keep the U.S. at the forefront of this growing and exciting field,” Wynne said.

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