By: Catherine Schroeder

My dad often jokes that he cannot wait for the day a drone delivers Taco Bell to a window of my parents’ 18th floor apartment. The last time he made this joke, I wondered why his Taco Bell fantasy has not already come true. The drone technology exists, but what is keeping drones from filling the sky? The answer is the Federal Aviation Administration or FAA.[1]

In the past, the FAA has taken a restrictive approach to regulating drones. In June 2016, the FAA released regulations, called Part 107, that set numerous requirements for the commercial operations of drones under 55 pounds.[2] These include registration of the drone, a remote pilot certification for the drone operator, flying the drone during daylight, flying below 400 feet above ground, and more.[3] Most importantly for commercial drone operators, the FAA mandates the drones to always be within the operator’s line of sight and to not fly directly over anyone not participating in the operation who is not under a covered structure or not inside a stationary vehicle.[4] These last two requirements make it nearly impossible to fly drones to make deliveries.[5]

The FAA’s restrictive approach is a reasonable one with the numerous and considerable risks drones pose to the environment, cybersecurity, privacy, and safety.[6] With no regulations, drones could blacken the sky.[7] Drones are especially susceptible to cybersecurity issues due to their highly exposed technical systems.[8] Drones have “open sensors” and are constantly wirelessly connected.[9]

It is still unclear how privacy laws will handle drone activity.[10] When the FAA released Part 107, it explicitly stated that “privacy is beyond the purview of its mission of safety and efficiency.”[11] A Kentucky resident shot his neighbor’s drone hovering over his backyard.[12] He argued that the drone was videotaping his yard and trespassing on his right to privacy.[13] As of now, only codes of conduct give any guidance to drone operators to not infringe on the privacy of others, but these codes have no consequences for infringement.[14]

As for public safety, drones pose serious threats. In August 2018, an assassination attack using drones occurred on Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro while giving a speech.[15] The Dubai airport had to shut down three times due to unauthorized drone activity over the last two years, losing approximately $1,007,310 USD currency every minute the airport was closed.[16]

With these risks in mind, the FAA appears to be moving cautiously towards implementing green light regulations, while companies are pushing to launch drone delivery services and other projects.[17] However, this past May, the FAA announced 10 drone programs in the country that it will give more freedom in the skies without much FAA control.[18] This shift comes from pressure from the White House and companies.[19] This initiative, called Integration Pilot Program, requires the partnering of state, local, or tribal governments with private entities. The FAA is testing to determine how much power it should give to local government for future drone regulations.[20] An example of a partnership includes the City of Memphis, the University of Memphis, the Tennessee Department of Transportation’s Aeronautics Division, FedEx, Intel, and others.[21]  This particular partnership involves monitoring the airport runway and perimeters, watching crops, delivering airplane parts, and surveying infrastructure inspections.[22]

What is missing from the Integration Pilot Program are companies like Uber and Amazon delivering meals or packages. This leaves it very much up in the air when and how regulations allowing these delivery services will occur. Both Amazon and the FAA seem optimistic that it is in the near future, even as soon as 2019.[23] For now, the FAA is focused on “worthy” projects, such as medical deliveries, for its Integration Pilot Program.[24] With the numerous risks that drones pose, this slow and cautious approach is reasonable.

 

[1] See Jack Stewart, FAA RELAXES DRONE RESTRICTIONS WITH 10 NEW PROGRAMS, Wired, (May 9, 2018, 7:56 PM), https://www.wired.com/story/faa-relaxes-drone-restrictions-with-10-new-programs/.

[2]See id.

[3]See Fact Sheet – Small Unmanned Aircraft Regulations (Part 107), Federal Aviation Administration, (July23, 2018), https://www.faa.gov/news/fact_sheets/news_story.cfm?newsId=22615 (last visited Nov. 21, 2018).

[4]See id.

[5]See Stewart, supra note 1.

[6]See generally Jennifer Urban, What is the Eye in the Sky Actually Looking at and Who is Controlling It? An International Comparative Analysis on How to Fill the Cybersecurity and Privacy Gaps to Strengthen Existing U.S. Drone Laws, 70 Fed. Comm. L.J. 1, 4 (2018) (discusses the numerous cybersecurity and privacy risks drones pose).

[7]See Stewart, supra note 1.

[8]See id. at 11.

[9]See id.

[10]See id. at 18.

[11]See id. at 19.

[12]See id. at 4, 5.

[13]See id.

[14]See id. at 20.

[15]See Jon Lee Anderson, AN ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT BY DRONE IS JUST THE LATEST MOMENT OF CHAOS IN VENEZUELA, The New Yorker, (Aug. 6, 2018), https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/an-assassination-attempt-by-drone-is-just-the-latest-moment-of-chaos-in-venezuela.

[16]See Federal Aviation Administration, supra note 6 at 3.

[17]See Stewart, supra note 1.

[18]See Stewart, supra note 1.

[19]See Andy Pasztor, Coming Soon to a Front Porch Near You: Package Delivery Via Drone,Wall Street Journal, (March 11, 2018, 4:07 PM), https://www.wsj.com/articles/coming-soon-to-a-front-porch-near-you-package-delivery-via-drone-1520798822.

[20]See Stewart, supra note 1.

[21]See Stewart, supra note 1.

[22]See Stewart, supra note 1.

[23]See Pasztor, supra note 18.

[24]See Stewart, supra note 1.

Image Source: https://www.wired.com/story/would-delivery-drones-be-all-that-efficient/

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