How to Move Drone Industry Forward Under New Trump Order

Posted by Betsy Lillian on February 15, 2017 No Comments

In order for the commercial unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) industry to keep growing, the Commercial Drone Alliance has proposed what it says is a path forward under the White House’s recent executive order (EO) of “Reducing Regulation and Controlling Regulatory Costs.”

On Jan. 30, President Donald Trump issued the order, which requires that for every one regulation the federal government issues, at least two existing regulations must be eliminated, the alliance explains.

In a Feb. 9 letter to the Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, the alliance wrote that the White House should urge the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to implement regulations that fulfill the goal of removing regulatory burdens overall, the group says.

Central to the alliance’s suggestion is that the OMB provide to the FAA additional guidance that clarifies that every new regulation issued to further integrate drones into the National Airspace System would qualify as a “deregulatory action” (for purposes of implementing the EO).

For example, allowing drone flights to take place over people, at night and beyond the visual line of sight of the operator would further deregulate the commercial drone industry. The existing restrictions on these types of flights could be reversed by implementing new ones that make these operations broadly acceptable; in turn, it would also satisfy the EO that requires two existing regulations be eliminated for every new regulation implemented.

“The general goal is to encourage the FAA to implement regulations that repeal aspects of the Federal Aviation Regulations that hold the drone industry back in ways that are nonsensical,” the letter says.

For example, under the current law, all drones are considered “aircraft,” the letter continues:

“This means that, without new rules repealing the Federal Aviation Regulations as applied to drones, the same rules that govern large, manned aircraft – including airworthiness certification, pilot certification, ‘see and avoid,’ and more – apply to the operation of commercial drones. This leads to absurd results in practice and has created a situation where innovation has suffered and many companies have been forced to shift their business overseas.”

Though the group says it is supportive of the “spirit” of the EO and the interim guidance implementing it, the order could also have unintended effects on U.S. drone industry growth.

“The administration’s desire to remove bureaucratic red tape is commendable, and the commercial drone industry appreciates the spirit of the EO,” the letter states. “But as the administration seeks to implement the EO, it is important to keep in mind that some regulations actually enable economic activity, rather than inhibit it. This is counter-intuitive but critical in the world of commercial drones.”

To move forward, the group further explains, the industry needs regulations that enable safe flights beyond the scope of current rules. The FAA is working on these rulemakings now, and the White House should encourage their timely release, the alliance adds.

“There is too much promise in the American commercial drone industry to put a damper on the momentum it’s been making through the regulatory process over the last year,” comments Lisa Ellman, co-executive director of the Commercial Drone Alliance. “We applaud the Trump administration’s focus on removing regulatory burdens and red tape, and it’s in that spirit we believe we’ve found a way to remove the unintended negative consequences of the EO on the growth of our industry and help the FAA meet its obligations under the order.”

Gretchen West, co-executive director of the group, adds, “The Commercial Drone Alliance looked at options to keep the industry moving forward after the EO was issued; we must encourage innovation and growth in the commercial drone sector. Our recommendations to the OMB reflect a creative yet practical solution to enacting the president’s EO and realizing the potential of drone technology.”

The Commercial Drone Alliance, based in California’s Silicon Valley and Washington, D.C., is co-led by West and Ellman, both of law firm Hogan Lovells LLP. In addition, the two are co-founders of the Women of Commercial Drones organization.

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