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How should drones be regulated for commercial use?

Phantom/GoPro Camera Quadcopter Drone
Phantom/GoPro Camera Quadcopter Drone
Photo by Kevin Baird via Flickr Creative Commons

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Movie studios, retailers, agriculture interests, and more are all trying to get their hands on drones. The problem is that the Federal Aviation Administration hasn’t written any rules for how drones would be allowed to operate commercially in the United States. Congress told the FAA in 2012 that regulations needed to be rolled out, and they set a September 2015 deadline. Until that deadline, there will be plenty of speculation as to how commercial drone use will be regulated in the U.S. Privacy is certainly a concern for many advocacy groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Electronic Privacy Information Center, who are concerned about the surveillance implications of commercial drone use.

Sources say that the FAA is considering requiring drone users to get a license, to only fly drones during the day and only as far as the operator could see them. Commercial groups argue those rules are way too restrictive. Amazon, for instance, would likely not be able to use drones to deliver packages if they could only be flown as far as the operator could see them.

Another drone issue plaguing the FAA is the increasing number of reports from pilots who have seen unmanned aircraft operating near their planes. The results could be disastrous if a drone or unmanned aircraft were to be sucked into a plane engine.

Should drone operators be required to be licensed under the pending FAA regulations? What about operators having to stay within sight of their drone? What regulations do you think should be included when the FAA rolls them out? Where does privacy factor in to this issue?


Mark Dombroff, Partner at the Virginia-based law firm McKenna Long & Aldridge. He concentrates his practice on the aviation and transportation industry, including litigation, regulatory, administrative and enforcement matters, security, National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigations and employee related issues.

Michael Drobac, Executive director of the Small UAV Coalition, they advocate for law and policy changes to permit the operation of small unmanned aerial vehicles for commercial, consumer, recreational, and philanthropic purposes. The Small UAV Coalition includes companies like Google, Amazon, and GoPro.

Parker Higgins, Activist with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, focuses on privacy and rights issues pertaining to drones