Money & Business

The FAA's Latest Drone Problem: Some Are Jumping the Gun

By / Feb 24, 2014 (Sean Gallup/Getty Images News/Thinkstock)

Despite the agency’s ongoing efforts to craft policy to regulate unmanned aerial vehicles, the lengthy process is causing some enthusiasts—including Hollywood—to flout the rules. Should the FAA move faster? Associations focused on the aviation space have differing takes on the issue.

The Federal Aviation Administration is working on rolling out rules to govern the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) industry and help it take flight. But it’s taking time, and for some, the delay is getting to be a little too much to bear.

That tension has many raising significant issues about both regulators and the people flying the drones. A few examples:

A part-time journalist was suspended from his job at a TV station in Hartford, Connecticut, earlier this month, after he flew a UAV around the scene of an accident. Though Pedro Rivera was outside the area of the single-fatality accident that police cordoned off and his drone was high above it—and though he recorded the footage on his free time—police officers coaxed the station to suspend Rivera for one week. He has since filed suit against the two officers, who allegedly told the station that he had compromised the scene. As Matthew Schroyer of the Professional Society of Drone Journalists notes, the situation raises freedom-of-the-press questions. “There’s a first amendment issue on the federal level as to what is the definition of a journalist,” he told Mashable.

The Oscar-nominated film The Wolf of Wall Street relied on footage shot using an unmanned aerial vehicle, even though such usage is banned under current FAA regulations. The company that shot the footage, Freefly Cinema, prominently features information about the filming on its website.

Virginia resident Eileen Peskoff was knocked to the ground during a running-of-the-bulls event there last year, but not by a bull. Bloomberg reports that a helicopter-style drone hit her after its operator, who was filming the event, lost control of it.

Speed Up the Process?

Such incidents are putting pressure on the FAA as it carries out a lengthy regulatory process. In the meantime, the agency doesn’t have much control over how flying unmanned vehicles are used.

Associations with interests in the issue have differing takes:

The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), which represents the industry, says the FAA is moving too slowly, having begun the rulemaking process in 2009. In a letter to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta, AUVSI President Michael Toscano argued that additional delay hurts the industry’s economic potential. “Whether it is helping farmers improve crop yields, assisting first responders with search and rescue missions or advancing scientific research, UAS are capable of saving time, saving money, and most importantly, saving lives,” he wrote, according to The Hill. The group wants the agency to allow limited use of drones in rural areas while it continues testing to determine how the vehicles would affect other aircraft.

Aviation professionals in other spaces, however, say that tighter regulations must be enforced to protect the airspace. “If we want to have a safe airspace, we have to do everything possible to battle the idea that this is no different than flying a paper airplane in your backyard,” Air Line Pilots Association First Vice President Sean Cassidy told Politico. This sentiment is shared by the Helicopter Association International, which told Bloomberg that the unregulated nature of unmanned vehicles raises major airspace concerns.

For now, the use of such devices for commercial purposes remains illegal until the FAA acts.

Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. More »

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