Disruptive Technologies and the Struggle for Regulation

Occasionally innovations move so quickly or are so novel that legislative and regulatory bodies can have a hard time keeping up. Recently, this struggle has been exemplified in the Federal Aviation Administration’s dealings with drones, or unmanned aerial systems (UAS), for commercial use. The FAA has authority to regulate and oversee all aspects of American civil aviation and under its current regulations it is illegal in the US to utilize drones for business purposes except for a few FAA permitted instances.

Officials from the FAA are struggling with creating new rules for small, unmanned aircraft and say it could be 2017 before new rules are established. The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, the drone industry’s lobbying group, has estimated the industry could create upward of 70,000 jobs and $13 billion in economic impact. That economic impact is essentially on hold under the current system of rules and regulations.

The FAA has provided a few exemptions for companies based on Section 333 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012. Earlier this year exemptions were granted to Hollywood for filming scenes and earlier this month four companies received exemptions to do aerial surveying, construction site monitoring and inspections of oil rigs. However, individuals or organizations seeking a 333 exemption must submit a lengthy application to the Department of Transportation about the drone and proposed operations.

The agency has received 167 applications for exemptions, and Amazon, which submitted drone testing plans earlier this year, has notably threatened to move its drone research offshore unless the FAA approves its plans. Meanwhile, the Northeast UAS Airspace Integration Research Alliance and the Griffiss International Airport in Rome, New York, one of the FAA’s designated drone testing areas, were awarded funding from New York State to install instrumentation to track unmanned aircraft operations at the airport and approved locations. The testing capability will be unique to the Griffiss International Airport unmanned test site and provide safety-enhancing information for ground-based pilots.