It’s now considered ‘cool’ to fly a drone whether you are doing it for your business or as a hobbyist in your own backyard. When the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released the final rules for small unmanned aerial systems (UAS) operations back in August 2016, the price of a drone decreased and the number of drones on the market exploded. Now there are over 1.1 million consumer drones according to the FAA, and companies are using drones for utility inspections, to movie filming, agriculture, real estate, scientific research and law enforcement.
One big challenge for those in the commercial sector: uncertain regulations. Everything in this area changes so quickly, and with the new year fast approaching, and all of the proposed (and new) laws out there, it will continue to change and evolve rapidly. In the forefront of the FAA, and the federal government as a whole, is how to address the patchwork of state and local laws regulating UAS operations. The answer may not be so simple. While the FAA stands its ground that it regulates the national airspace, the FAA also knows that enforcement around UAS operations will likely be better dealt with on the state and local level. So how do we determine who has control of the skies? Well, first, it is likely that many of the local ordinances out there won’t hold up in court because the FAA is after all the only agency with power to regulate the national airspace. But perhaps state and local governments are better equipped to handle time, place and manner of drone usage below 200 feet, while the FAA is better equipped to handle broad operational restrictions and operation in certain airspace. The FAA, and the industry, have a lot of questions to sort out, but meanwhile, drones are flying off the shelves. The FAA expects that there will be 3.55 million recreational UAS (never mind the commercially operated ones) in use by 2021. Eventually, we will come to a consensus as to what reasonable drone operations means—we will have to.