Obama's drone order could come 'any day now,' lobbyist says

President Obama’s executive order on drone privacy could come “any day now,” according to a lobbyist for the industry.

Michael Drobac, a senior policy adviser at Akin Gump, last week launched a coalition for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) that includes Amazon Prime Air, Google[x]’s Project Wing, GoPro and Parrot, among others.

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Members of the Small UAV Coalition have been meeting behind the scenes with officials from the White House and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) as they seek to integrate unmanned aircraft into American airspace, Drobac said.

The executive order from Obama reportedly would require federal agencies and departments to detail the size and scope of their domestic drone fleets and how they use any data they might collect.

The step, demanded by privacy advocates, could help the FAA as it seeks to issue guidelines for the commercial use of UAVs. The executive order would be ultimately implemented by other federal departments, including the Pentagon and the Department of Commerce.

Drobac, the coalition’s executive director, and other Akin Gump lobbyists have been lobbying on behalf of the Small UAV Coalition since August, according to disclosure records. 

He said progress on the drone rules has been slow and that the coalition hopes to “work collaboratively” with the FAA to turn that around.

The FAA must come out with final drone rules by September 2015 and should be initiating proposals next month, but industry experts and a government audit have said it is falling behind those deadlines. 

The agency has said it is making “significant progress” despite facing hurdles in the rule-making process.

While the FAA has designated six drone-testing sites nationwide, Drobac said some companies have had problems either getting approval or access to those locations, and that very few tests have actually taken place.

“It’s a vicious cycle,” Drobac said, because companies can’t prove they can operate the UAVs safely without the tests.

He said the foot-dragging by the government could spur companies to outsource their research and operations to avoid the burdensome approval process in the United States.

“Some take a view of this as being in the long-term future,” such as within the next 10 years, Drobac said. “The technology to do this safely is here now. How long do we go forward before we acknowledge that it’s here?”