Small-drone group brings on first outside lobbyist

The Small UAV Coalition, which is pressing for relaxed regulations for the use of commercial drones, hired its first outside lobbyist this week. 

The trade group, which counts members such as Google X and Amazon Prime Air, brought on lobbyist Robert Epplin, who recently started his own firm after splitting with the group founded by former House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt, Gephardt Government Affairs. 

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The drone trade group, which includes 20 members, started last year and is headed by Michael Drobac. In an email, Drobac said he expected more lobbying hires "as we continue to grow."

Many of the members have their own lobbying operations in place, which partly focuses on drone regulations. Google and Amazon, for example, spent nearly $7 million in combined lobbying in the second quarter, partly focusing on the regulations. 

Other members include GoPro, Parrot, Verizon Ventures and others. 

The Federal Aviation Administration is currently developing regulations for the use of commercial drones. Under the draft rules, commercial drones that weigh 55 pounds or less would be able to fly within an operator's line of sight and no higher than 500 feet, among other things. 

While the rules are being developed, the administration has handed out more than 1,700 exemptions to allow for limited commercial use. 

The coalition and other fliers have pushed to relax those rules, as some businesses test out models of drone delivery service. The coalition has taken specific issue with the height limitations and the line-of-sight rules, which would severely limit the delivery business model. 

The trade group has also pressed to write into the rules a section allowing companies to conduct drone testing on their own private property.