Energy

Obama Greenlights Commercial Drones, Expert Says Its Too Little Too Late

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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Small drones were cleared for take-off by the Obama administration Tuesday, but experts are saying that the rule could be “too little, too late” to prevent American drone companies from going overseas.

“Many in the drone industry are severely disappointed that FAA continues to use a ‘guilty until proven innocent’ model of regulation, or maybe more accurately ‘illegal until proven 100% safe, no matter the economic cost,'” an expert familiar with the political process behind Federal Aviation Administrations told The Daily Caller News Foundation on condition of anonymity.

“FAA won’t allow even commercial users, who have the most to lose if there were to be an accident, to deliver packages or conduct power-line inspections, which can be deadly for manned aircraft. They’re holding back tens of thousands of jobs and billions in economic growth to make sure they don’t get blamed for an accident,” he said.

Companies like Amazon and Intel have threatened to shift their drone operations overseas and Google has already moved to Australia to test its drone prototypes due to the bureaucratic hurdles of Obama’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The FAA’s new aviation rules are designed only to allow very small drones to fly without special permission, making it difficult to use drones from many commercial tasks.

“FAA should focus on catching reckless unmanned aircraft systems users who endanger the safety of others instead of continuing its blanket ban of many beneficial drone uses that will grow the economy and save lives,” the expert continued.

The FAA has been drafting the new commercial drone rules since 2014 and previous drafts apparently required dozens of hours flying manned aircraft to receive a drone pilot license. Until now, commercial operators have had to apply for a waiver from rules that govern manned aircraft, a process that can be time-consuming and expensive.

Since 2014 the FAA only granted 6,100 waivers to drone pilots and has another 7,600 waiting for approval. This bureaucratic inefficiency has led to many small companies illegally using drones without FAA permission.Under the new rules, operators have to register their drones online and pass an aviation knowledge exam for drone pilots. Previously, operators had to have a manned aircraft pilot’s license.

Big companies like Amazon are deeply interested in using drones for a variety of tasks such as deliver packages, surveying real estate, monitoring fields and shooting films. Industry and government officials describe commercial drones as the biggest game-changing technology in aviation since the jet engine. The industry was valued at $552 million in 2014 and has been growing at a rate of 16.9 percent annually.

Under the new rules, getting a final drone certificate from the FAA should take between 5 to 10 weeks and cost about $150.

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