3D Robotics

Politico: "FAA risks losing the drone war"


From Politico, a long piece arguing that the "FAA is often powerless to halt the growing drone swarm".



The Washington Nationals used a drone to photograph spring training. Real estate agents use them to show off sprawling properties. Martin Scorsese hired one to film a scene in “The Wolf of Wall Street.”

So where does this leave the Federal Aviation Administration, which insists that commercial drone use is illegal?

Way behind — and facing turbulence as drone use explodes.

Thanks to falling prices, spotty enforcement and the fact that it’s almost impossible to spot the devices being used, the FAA is often powerless to halt the growing drone swarm. Retailers freely sell the tiny planes, quadcopters and hexacopters for as little as a few hundred dollars, and entrepreneurs continually come up with creative uses like wedding photography and crop monitoring — along with delivering beer and dropping off dry-cleaning.

The result, observers and drone users warn, could be a Wild, Wild West in the nation’s skies. As small drone operators grow used to flying them without the FAA’s permission, they could become less inclined to obey any rules the agency puts in place. And with the cost of the technology continuing to drop, the drones could eventually become far too ubiquitous for the agency to police.

Meanwhile, the FAA is lagging in meeting a congressional mandate to allow commercial drones to share the skies legally.

“Most people want to comply with the FAA rules,” said Ted Ellett, a former FAA general counsel who is now a partner specializing in aviation at the law firm Hogan Levells. “But the more the FAA acts like a big daddy, behemoth government agency that is imposing excessive restrictions, the more the feeling of ‘I’m an American, they can’t tell me what to do’ kicks in. And that’s a real danger for the FAA.”

Plenty of drone users are going ahead without waiting for the agency.

“A lot of our members would like to start businesses using this technology,” said Timothy Reuter, the founder of the Drone User Group Network in Washington. “Some of them are waiting for the regulations to open up. Others, honestly, aren’t.”


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  • this whole mess would be funny if it wasn't so sad.....

  • Justin and all,

    The UAS industry is no doubt going to explode at some point. The only reason it is not exploding now is because of the FAA. Congress tried to force the FAA, but has been unsuccessful.

    At some point, the NAS will be opened up. I believe integration into the NAS will be rolled out incrementally with sUAS going first. To give everyone an idea how that may happen, I will recount a conversation I had at the AUVSI 2013 national conference in Washington D.C. I spoke in depth with a gentleman that had a vendor space there where he showed several sUAS he was marketing. He was trying to do it the right way so he was in the process of getting one of his aircraft certified with the FAA. It was an Easy Star/Bixler type powered glider with an APM. He had spent over 12 months (at that time) and generated over 100 pages of documentation trying to get it certified. He thought he might have certification in another 30 days. So far, I have not seen it on the FAA's list of certified aircraft. To give you an even better idea of the challenge the small UAS entrepreneur faces, he told me he had to convince the FAA he was the manufacturer of the system so he could be allowed to maintain it. The FAA wasn't even going to allow him change the 8 inch plastic propeller. He was told by the FAA he would have to have a certified A&P tech change the prop. This is an ominous indication of where we are headed with certification/regulation. As John said earlier, the FAA is being lobbied heavily by big money companies that want very high certification standards that are beyond all but the best financed organizations. Those companies packed the rules committee.

    I hope that reason and consideration for the small operator comes into play somewhere in the rules making process so we will all have the opportunity we know is ahead. IMO, we need a special category for under five pound aircraft.  We can have a substantial business in that category with a very small risk factor that should have less stringent regulatory requirements. Whatever the case, you can be assured the solution will require both airframe and pilot/operator certification to be legal. The CB radio analogy referred to in the article Chris posted is a good one, but I don't think we will get by that easily.

  • One thing I haven't seen mentioned, is the simple fact that the UAV industry is just startings its boom. With estimates near the $90 billion mark in a decade, the FAA will be FORCED to offer a solution. In perspective it would be similar to missing out on the internet boom
  • I'm sick and tired of the excuses of the FAA. Forget the FAA and the US as a market for now and focus on the ROW. In the end it will be the Wild West here on this front and go a much different path than the FAA and DOD contractors have been lobbying for and steering towards. It is set for a showdown that the FAA will never never be able to play catch up on and win. With the level of interest, potential and amount of embedded activity already underway; There is no possible way and budget that the FFA will ever get to even come close to reigning this surging amount of activity and growth that is set for the UAS community. It's just too bad that the bureaucrats, big business and DOD are ruining the chances for the small business owners of making the US a cornerstone for this industry.

  • Developer

    I don't think FAA is the only player in town you have to worry about.

    What I mean by that, is that I suspect there is a lot of lobbying done by the big commercial companies to restrict the use of commercial drones. By introducing a lot of technical requirements, regulations and and paperwork, only the big players will have the resources to comply.

    Just look at the obviously self serving statement against "mini drones" by Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt.

  • Moderator
    I think Dennis has a good point, I operate my vehicles correctly and safely but an accident or failure is still possible, my insurance covers me even if there are no laws that I have broken.
  • The FAA has already lost the drone war.  Look around, people are basically doing what they want, when they want, and 99.9% free from any agency bothering them.  We are told by our "leaders"  that we are number one in the world. But somehow the rest of the world is way ahead of us and has rules in place, people certified, and businesses making money and paying employees to fly drones.  For small drones which probably represent 95% plus of the market these rules are not hard to come up with.  The market and lawsuits will settle the rest with unsafe people being sued out of existence pretty quick.  With new technology and fields it takes awhile for the market to grow and mature to see where it will go.  The drone market is no different.  Trying to quench or regulate to death an industry before anyone really knows what type of regulation is needed isn't going to work.  Simply saying you must have insurance will eliminate 75% or more of the business as the insurance will cost more than they will profit.

  • I attended a sUAS conference in fall 2013 where I spoke to an insurance vendor displaying at the conference. I specifically asked him about selling insurance to a market without legal standing. He said they will sell the insurance and the commercial operator will be covered. His explanation was to compare to speeding in a car. It is illegal activity but the car owner is still covered. Cost for USD $1,000,000 coverage was around USD $300/month.

  • Admin


    Good point. I believe that drone liability insurance is obviously in its infancy and will be adjusted by insurers to met FAA or whatever liability requirements are established.

    I read a while back about an insurance company, don't know which one, that was offering drone liability insurance. There was no mention of coverage or cost.


    TCIII ArduRover2 Developer 

  • Moderator
    Could the FAA then be sued for actively preventing someone from obtaining correct insurance by their lack of action to provide suitable working regulation ?
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