FAA Successes and Challenges: A Look into the UAV Market

At CompTIA’s 2016 National State Government Affairs (SGA) and State and Local Government and Education (SLED) meeting, held November 15 to 16 in Nashville, in a panel titled, “UAVs and the Intricacies of Federal, State and Local Jurisdictions,” Diana Marina Cooper, vice president of legal and policy affairs at PrecisionHawk and Gregory McNeal, professor of law and public policy, Pepperdine University, and co-founder of AirMap both discussed their experiences formulating drone policy with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Congress, and the states.

With the release of FAA regulations this year, Cooper said the United States is coming closer in line with other countries in the UAV market, some of which have more mature markets to date. Cooper pointed to commercial waivers that have been granted.  He noted that one improvement is that an individual no longer need be a certificated pilot to use commercial UAVs; nevertheless, one must hold a "remote pilot airman certificate" issued by the FAA. Both felt the FAA wants to lead in regulations. While innovation is not in their mandate, efficiency and a safe airspace system is a priority, and by extension could positively impact the environment for innovation and other factors. 

Both discussed what the elections means to the drone market. The speakers discussed Trump’s unique background of spending decades flying private jets and his failed attempt in starting a commercial airline, all of which, they said, makes him more in tune with commercial aviation and may help achieve a lighter regulatory touch and allow companies to deliver technology solutions more quickly.

In fact, they speculated that there may be a bias against existing legacy players that rely on federal contracts. Who holds more sway in a Trump Administration? Larger legacy federal contractor or startups?

The panel discussed the states’ roles in the UAVs market, where there have been over 280 state and local bills filed around safety, critical infrastructure and privacy. We are seeing state regulations at times conflicting with or alternately complementing FAA regulations but states have legitimate concerns about drones flying in low altitude air space including hovering on windshield space, or over an elementary school. To date, state regulatory focus seems to be on personal security versus personal data.

Drone insurance was also part of the discussion and is currently limited. The FAA is making a move to develop industry consensus standards committee and insurance may be part of those discussion, but for now, insurance requirements may ultimately be state-driven policies.

The speakers seemed to agree based on regulatory and legislative actions that have taken place so far that the promise of drone delivery such as what has been proposed by Amazon and other on-line retailers will happen in 2020. State governments are also seeing the commercial benefits of developing a fleet of drones to address with costs dropping dramatically.