Send in the Drones: Associations Warm to FAA’s Delayed Rules

The Federal Aviation Administration's long-awaited set of proposed rules for the operation of unmanned aerial vehicles proved less onerous than many anticipated, leading associations to generally react positively.

For a lot of drone operators, the key word was “patience.”

Regulators at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) were a bit slow in producing rules for the commercial use of drones, and groups like the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) have repeatedly called for regulatory action on the issue.

On Sunday, the FAA and the Department of Transportation finally gave drone enthusiasts their wish. And in their initial form, the proposed rules could free the devices for many commercial uses without too many compliance headaches. That’s significant, considering there had been rumblings that the rules might require a pilot’s license, which would have limited the reach of the devices substantially.

Among other requirements, the proposed rules [PDF summary] would limit commercial drone flights to an altitude of 500 feet and require that the device stay within the operator’s line of sight. Drones could not be flown over people not involved with the flight, and operators would need to be certified by the FAA and pass periodic tests.

The line-of-sight requirement means that long-distance flights won’t be allowed. (Sorry, Amazon—no drone deliveries yet.)

“We have tried to be flexible in writing these rules,” FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said in a news release. “We want to maintain today’s outstanding level of aviation safety without placing an undue regulatory burden on an emerging industry.”

“a good first step”

AUVSI and the Small UAV Coalition remained active on the issue for years and kept pushing their message recently, after a drone crashed on the White House lawn in January—reminding federal officials that poorly constructed rules could harm the budding sector’s growth.

The groups welcomed the FAA proposal.

“This is a good first step in an evolutionary process that brings us closer to realizing the many societal and economic benefits of UAS technology,” AUVSI President and CEO Brian Wynne said in a blog post. “We’re currently reviewing the details of the proposed rule, and we look forward to addressing its specific provisions once we’ve had time to fully digest the rule.”

Meanwhile, the Small UAV Coalition largely supported the proposal, but it took issue with some of the details, particularly the regulations on height limits and flying over people.

“The proposal would not allow any operation over any person not directly involved in the operation,” the coalition noted. “Operations within the visual line of sight should be permitted over persons provided the operator has passed the knowledge test.”

Advocating for Members

But the UAV groups aren’t the only ones with a stake in the debate. Organizations whose members have been eager to use drones, such as the National Association of Realtors, also gave the rules a vote of approval.

“NAR plans to submit comments to the agency and will continue to work with our members to educate them about the future safe, responsible, and legal uses of UAVs; however, until the final rule is published, NAR discourages Realtors from using UAV photography or video for commercial purposes without an FAA exemption,” NAR President Chris Polychron said in a news release. NAR was part of a working group that helped the FAA develop the regulations.

And the National Press Photographers Association, which has watched the issue closely after journalists raised First Amendment concerns with the FAA, approved the rules thus far.

“While we still need to review the proposed rule in its entirety, we are very encouraged that the FAA has chosen to follow the commonsense and less burdensome approach to its rulemaking that NPPA has been advocating for over the past few years,” NPPA General Counsel Mickey Osterreicher said in a blog post.


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a senior editor for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. MORE

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