It’s no secret that the FAA has been under pressure from drone manufacturers and UAV advocacy groups to establish the regulatory framework that will safely and quickly integrate drones into the national airspace. This pressure has increased all the more since a federal judge threw out the agency’s first and only prosecution of a commercial drone operator earlier this year, calling the FAA’s legal argument “absurd” in Latin. Now, and perhaps in part due to that case’s ignominious dismissal, the FAA’s drone mandate has drawn the attention of Congress.
In this 2015 appropriations bill, Congress has given the FAA a pretty remarkable lagniappe: “An additional $3,000,000 in the Aviation Safety Activity to expedite the integration of UAS into commercial airspace.” (Read here.) While it seems like the FAA’s just been given a bonus for doing a poor job, that “additional” part might be a bit misleading, because the FAA’s initial mandate was otherwise unfunded. Additionally, the bill grants the FAA a full $2 million more for UAS Research in 2015 than the $8.9 million the agency requested.
The reason? According to the bill, “the FAA may not be well positioned to manage effectively the introduction of UAS in the United States.”
Brendan Schulman, the attorney who defended pilot Raphael Pirker in the FAA’s commercial suit, thinks it’s likely that this case inspired the new funding. That’s because the Pirker case, he said, “highlighted the absence of regulation as demand for use of the technology grows.”
Basically, as more and more people get turned on to the usefulness of drone technology, it becomes increasingly urgent to establish policies that will allow the technology to mature safely and apace so that it can do the most good.
Archie Stafford of the Academy of Model Aeronautics has been giving hands-on drone seminars, and he points out the double-edged sword here: “With amazing new drones out there like 3DR has, it’s like if you can operate a mouse you can make these things fly. And while it may be easy, we’ve got to remember that 99% of these new pilots won’t have an aviation background. That’s where education and proper regulation come in.”
With that in mind, you might begin to wonder if $5 million will get the FAA there.
Read the full bill here.