I recently wrote about the proposed FAA rules regarding the use of commercial drones (also known as "Unmanned Aircraft Systems" or "UAS"). While these new rules are indeed a step in the right direction, their restrictions render the commercial use of drones impractical. The FAA has indicated a willingness to rethink some of the rules (such as the big hurdle that a drone must remain within the line of sight of the operator) but it may take years for the FAA to implement any changes. Meanwhile, other countries are moving forward at a much faster pace than we are. For example, on April 28, 2015, Mexico issued a rule that small commercial drones can be flown without a permit or a pilot's license, something which is prohibited in the U.S. under the FAA rules.
On May 12, 2015, U.S. Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and John Hoeven (R-ND) introduced legislation to set interim operating rules to help the U.S. keep up with other countries in the technological development of commercial drone use. From their press release:
"There is so much potential that can be unlocked if we lay the proper framework to support innovation in unmanned aircraft systems," Sen. Booker said. "But right now, the US is falling behind other countries because we lack rules for the safe operation of commercial UAS technology. The Commercial UAS Modernization Act sets up clear and immediate rules of the road, helping to lay a foundation that will allow us to make cutting-edge progress in a rapidly emerging field."
"We're on the frontier of a whole new era of aviation, when remotely piloted aircraft will improve crop production, provide valuable aid for first responders and even deliver packages to our doorstep," Sen. Hoeven said. "We need to design safe pathways for the UAS industry to deliver these benefits to consumers, and our bill, through the FAA test sites, does just that."
The bill provides interim guidelines for commercial use and testing of small drones during the time it takes for the FAA to finalize the rules. It would create a framework for lessening the current restrictions while still protecting public safety, which is the FAA's paramount concern.
Companies like Amazon, Google and Apple recognize the vast economic potential for commercial drone use. On April 30, 2015, Amazon was granted a patent for an " Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Delivery System" that conceptually describes how drones could autonomously retrieve items from inventory, compute a delivery route and deliver packages to various destinations. It is estimated that once the FAA rules have been finalized and the barriers to the practical use of commercial drones have been removed, this industry will take off, creating hundreds of thousands of U.S. jobs resulting in an enormous economic impact.
As Senator Booker said, "We cannot allow other countries to outpace us at what we do best. This legislation is essential to ensuring our legacy as a country that leads the globe in technological innovation."