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May 03, 2014

FAA Drone Laws: Bold Predictions

I was asked to predict the end state of FAA regulation of commercial drones.

My answer came in two segments - what it will be, and what it won't be - and I thought I'd set it down here so that in a few years, everybody can see how wrong I was.
This is what FAA regulation of drone use will look like

    Commercial Mini-Drones
  • The definition of commercial mini-drone operation will be: any size up to maximum width six feet, any weight up to maximum of six pounds, any operation by a business entity or by an individual for hire, compensation, or benefit.
  • Uncontrolled airspace in nice weather: commercial mini-drone operators will use the same rules as hobbyist mini-RC aircraft, with the additional requirement of minimum insurance coverage.
  • Controlled airspace in nice weather: commercial mini-drone operators will use the same rules as hobbyist mini-RC aircraft, with the additional requirements of minimum insurance coverage, and a on-scene drone observer in immediate contact with the drone operator.
  • Uncontrolled airspace in marginal weather (Marginal VMC): commercial mini-drone operators will use hobbyist mini-RC rules, must have minimum insurance coverage, must have functioning mode-S transponders.
  • Controlled airspace in marginal weather (Marginal VMC): commercial mini-drone operators Not Authorized.

Commercial Drones Outside Mini-Drone Parameters Operation of larger/heavier drones will require special procedures specifying conflict avoidance responsibility and technique. NAS rollout of ModeS in/out is expected to provide many of the capabilities required for this type of flight. At this time, any of these operations will require special arrangements.

Law Enforcement and Drone Operations

  • Expect law enforcement operations (LEO/DHS) to receive priority over normal flight operations except at the most critical airports. Expect ATC to be informed of LEO missions which will have unique tracking codes, and normal traffic will flow around the LEO mission.
  • There will be drone no-fly zones around DC and VIP movements. Nobody will pay attention to them, and nobody will enforce them unless the media calls attention to them.

OTOH, This is what the FAA regulation of drone use will not look like FAA drone regulation will not include any privacy, noise, or complaint resolution process at the federal level. It may refer such conflicts to local/state law enforcement.

Discussion The Radio-Controlled hobbyist procedures have provided a long-term, successful framework for similar operations. Introduction of the insurance requirement provides an appropriate level of business accountability, and aviation insurance companies will specify their own requirements as they see fit outside of the federal rule making process (hand of the marketplace and all that).

This proposal resolves 95% of the desired use, for 95% of the desired users. It does not address over-the-horizon use, or full NAS integration within controlled airspace - as the technology base is not yet standardized/deployed for that solution.

This proposal sidesteps the reasons the FAA has been avoiding the mini-UAV issue all along - noise, privacy, and political conflict - none of which are within FAA's expertise. So the proposal deals with aviation issues and leaves noise and privacy to other levels of government.

It's just my prediction. Feel free to add yours.

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