What do you think of the FAA’s recent announcement that they don't expect to have rules in place for commercial uses of drones until 2020?
Our biggest fear is that the FAA is going to come out with rules that are so expensive and cumbersome that only big businesses will be able to comply with them, and small entrepreneurs will be squeezed out of the market before it even has a chance to blossom. And, you know, although there are real issues that need to be considered here, the longer the FAA waits to provide guidance, to some degree the less relevant they become. Because it’s always a challenge to tell people they can’t do something that in fact they really can do.
People can go out and fly, but you’re telling them they can’t. The FAA is trying to apply models from old technology to new technology that’s actually quite different. Why do you need a license to fly something that fits in the palm of your hand, 20 feet above the ground? Now, the honest answer is we don't know what the FAA is going to come out with. But we’re worried that they’re really going to take the model from manned aviation that has very high requirements because of the safety issues and apply it to things that have much less risk associated with them. That isn’t to say that there’s no risk, but you need requirements that are commensurate with that risk. So, requiring a copilot for something that fits in the palm of your hand and is flying 20 feet above the ground would be ridiculous.
Would you advocate some type of agreement? I imagine your own group has a set of safety standards.
Absolutely. And so, we think we could take what is currently considered advisable for hobbyists and use that as a model for commercial use of small craft, say, under 10 pounds. The FAA actually came out with an advisory circular for what they call model aircraft in 1982. Now, it’s not a law. It’s not even a policy or regulation. It’s an advisory circular. But frankly, what's in there is good sense.
What type of advice is included?
Things like don’t fly higher than 400 feet because at 500 feet, you get into manned helicopters, and at 1,000 feet, you get into manned planes. And there really do need to be systems in place for where manned aviation and unmanned aviation will interact in the future.
But frankly, the way that most people fly is in a completely separate space from where an airplane would be. And so, these are all good-sense things. They’re not that difficult to comply with, and we could use them now as regulations and allow the vast majority of commercial applications that people want to undertake.
Would you be able to undertake a commercial application, do you think, with a Pocket Drone now?
Absolutely not. According to the FAA, no one is allowed to undertake a commercial application, with a few exceptions in Alaska.