Drone Use and Local Governments: Secretive Task Force Founders

Screenshot 2017-10-24 08.04.10I have become quite interested in the intersection between drones (“unmanned aerial vehicles”) and local government regulation lately, and will be using this blog to post news and developments that cut new ground in this area.

Yesterday’s Washington Post featured an article about a secretive subcommittee (so-called “Task Group 1 of the Drone Advisory Committee”) that has been tasked by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) with making recommendations about the manner in which state and local governments should be able to regulate drone use : A U.S. drone advisory group has been meeting in secret for months. It hasn’t gone well.

TL;DR version:

  • The Federal Government (through the FAA) has exclusive jurisdiction over US airspace, under the principle that you can’t have each and every local jurisdiction passing laws and regulations about the airspace above it.
  • Open question that the proliferation of drones pose is whether the Federal Government should allow local governments to control the airspace at ultra-low altitudes — usually under 400 feet above ground level — that is — should local governments be able to specify when, where, and under what conditions drones should be able to fly
  • FAA formed the Drone Advisory Committee to study and make recommendations on integrating drones into the US airspace.
  • The committee created a task force to study and come to consensus upon an approach to the balance of regulation between the FAA and state/local government with respect to ultra-low altitude airspace, in preparation for a pilot initiative to give local/state governments more control over drone regulation.
  • The task force composition and conduct have come under fire, even from within the task force. It appears to be heavily laden with industry lobbyists, and in fact is co-chaired by a lobbyist for DJI, a major Chinese drone manufacturer that makes pretty much every drone you can buy at your local big box store. Members have been asked to sign strict confidentiality agreements, which triggered something of a revolt by dissenters (which included the National Association of Counties).
  • It isn’t clear what the next step is — however, what is clear is that the debate between 100% federal regulation of ultra-low altitude airspace and some local government regulation will continue.

 

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