New President, New Transportation Secretary: How Should Drones be Handled?

The Drone Manufacturers Alliance (DMA) – comprising 3DR, DJI, GoPro and Parrot – is applauding President-elect Donald Trump’s recent nomination of Elaine Chao as the next U.S. secretary of transportation, succeeding Anthony Foxx. In addition, the group is calling on Trump to “pursue a balanced legal and regulatory framework for unmanned aircraft systems.”

“Secretary Chao is a proven leader, and we are encouraged by her long-held approach to balanced regulation,” says Kara Calvert, DMA’s director, in a statement released by the group. “We look forward to working with her and her team on policies that promote innovation and allow the drone market to flourish in a responsible and safe manner.”

According to her website, Chao was elected U.S. Secretary of Labor back in 2001 and served under the Bush administration for eight years.

“Secretary Chao’s extensive record of strong leadership and her expertise are invaluable assets in our mission to rebuild our infrastructure in a fiscally responsible manner,” Trump said in a press release.

Speaking to the Associated Press, Thomas McGarity, a professor at the University of Texas, as well as an author of a book on the U.S. Department of Labor, noted that Chao would likely not be “especially inclined to second-guess the industry” on the safety of new technology, such as UAS or autonomous cars.

He explained further that Chao is a “strong advocate of letting the markets function as they will, not intervening in private-sector arrangements.”

Regarding the future of the U.S. drone industry, DMA says a regulatory framework must “prioritize safety, education and technological innovation.”

“Specifically, DMA encourages the new administration to preserve the role of the FAA and Congress in regulating the national airspace for drones, create a regulatory framework for micro drones, and foster technological solutions – rather than create static technology mandates,” the group explains in a news post.

In a letter dated Nov. 9 to Trump and the Trump-Pence Transition Team, DMA praises the efforts of Michael Huerta, administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, who has “made it clear that drones are good for America and that drones can be safely integrated into the national airspace.”

“More broadly, we are pleased the FAA is developing and executing drone policy that recognizes the benefits of a vibrant and innovative drone market,” the letter continues.

Thus, the group says, “We urge your administration to continue the trend. If we move forward with a balanced regulatory structure, we believe the market will meet the projections of $82.1 billion in economic impact and 100,000 jobs by 2025.”

In the letter, DMA says “top policy priorities” include education; establishing a micro UAS rule; “preserving the role of the FAA and Congress” (i.e., maintaining the FAA’s jurisdiction over national airspace, rather than local and state governments); protecting the freedom of model aircraft operators; and privacy protection.

Lastly, the letter, citing the “constantly evolving and expanding” drone industry, says “industry-led standards” must “reflect the rapidly changing technological capabilities and advancements.”

“We believe standards can help create useful and necessary parameters, but strict technological mandates can have the unintended consequence of locking in old technology and impeding the development of new hardware and software solutions.

“As drone-related standards are considered, it is critical they are federal in nature to avoid a patchwork of cumbersome state and local technology mandates. We are hopeful we can work with you and Congress on a reasonable approach related to standards,” the group explains in the letter.

In conclusion, DMA says it remains “very excited” to work with Trump, his transition team and his newly elected administration “on a range of policy questions related to drones.”

“Thank you for considering our point of view, and we look forward to 2017.”

The full letter to Trump can be found here.


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