Trump’s freeze on regulations could cause major delays for commercial drones

On Jan. 20, 2017, the first day of President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump's top adviser on Asia to serve as deputy national security adviser United Auto Workers strike against GM poised to head into eighth day Trump doubles down on call to investigate Biden after whistleblower complaint: 'That's the real story' MORE’s administration, White House chief of staff Reince Priebus issued a memorandum to the heads of executive branch agencies freezing all new regulations. Then this week the White House issued an executive order requiring that for every regulation issued, at least two prior regulations be identified for elimination. 


The administration’s desire to remove bureaucratic red tape is commendable, and the commercial drone industry certainly appreciates the sentiment. But it is important to realize that some regulations actually enable economic activity, rather than inhibit it. This is counter-intuitive, but critical in the world of commercial drones.


There is therefore strong concern across the commercial drone community that these new anti-regulation policies will inadvertently harm America’s share of this hundred-billion-dollar commercial drone industry and jeopardize the ability of the United States to maintain a leadership role in this evolving industry.

To move forward, the industry needs regulations that enable safe flights beyond the scope of current rules. Otherwise, the industry’s growth will be halted. 

President Trump has taken office at a critical and exciting time for the commercial drone industry. His new administration is blessed with the opportunity to build our economy, create jobs, unleash the innovation of entrepreneurs and move our country forward now by rapidly integrating commercial drones into our National Airspace System (NAS).

Once properly enabled, the integration of drones into our NAS will save countless lives and have a significant economic impact here in the United States. Industry reports have estimated the global market value of drone-powered solutions at over a hundred billion dollars. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has projected there will be 11 million commercial drones sold here in the U.S. by 2020, just three years from now.

But the industry’s growth depends on the assumption that United States policymaking keeps up with the technology.

Over the last several years, the industry has worked patiently with regulators to craft rules that enable the integration of drones into the NAS in a way that is safe and secure. For the first time ever, last August the federal government broadly authorized commercial drone use in the United States. The government’s implementation of this new rule marked an important leap forward for the industry.  

However, the federal government has a long way to go to fully empower the dynamic growth of this new industry.

The current rules authorizing commercial drone flight include strict operational restrictions. Among other requirements, operators must fly within visual line of sight, during daylight hours only, and not over people.  And the allowable use of drones for package delivery is extremely limited.  Many of these requirements are “waivable” under the rule, but the waiver process is cumbersome, time consuming and limited in scope. 

Meanwhile, to benefit from the use of drones for disaster response, companies need to be able to fly over people. To inspect infrastructure safely, oil and gas companies need to be able to fly beyond visual line of sight. For public safety, operators need to be able to fly at night. And companies must be permitted to safely deliver cargo such as medical supplies with drones.  

For the industry to truly take off, we need rulemakings from the FAA that broadly authorize these types of operations in a way that is safe. The FAA is working on these rulemakings now, and the White House should encourage their timely release. 

While some regulations are overly limiting, other regulations enable economic growth. The Trump administration can move quickly to design and implement a sensible regulatory framework for unmanned aircraft systems that promotes innovation while protecting the public interest, in order to maintain our nation’s competitive edge, fully exploit the incredible public interest benefits of this technology, and move into the next generation of unmanned flight. 

Let’s use rules to remove bureaucratic red tape, and safely propel the industry forward.


Lisa Ellman chairs the Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Group for Hogan Lovells, a global law firm, where she’s a leading public policy lawyer focusing on domestic drones and other emerging technologies. Lisa is also the co-executive director of the Commercial Drone Alliance, an independent 501(c)(6) nonprofit led by key figures of the commercial drone industry.

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