What the drone industry wants from the FAA and Trump

The commercial drone industry in the U.S. hasn’t heard much from the President-elect about his plans for rulemaking that will impact their business and global competitiveness.

Last month, Associated Press broke the story that Trump is interested in privatizing air traffic control, wresting that responsibility from the Federal Aviation Administration and handing it to a nonprofit chartered by Congress.

But we still don’t know what his take might be when it comes to drones, which operate in lower airspace.

Drones, of course, could be exceedingly useful to real estate companies, like Trump’s own, in terms of delivering aerial inspections and security surveillance around properties. So one would expect Trump to have a solid understanding of their potential, along with major players in the commercial drone industry domestically.

In August, the FAA enacted its Part 107 regulation, which provides national and universal rules around the commercial use of unmanned aerial vehicles that weigh up to 55 lbs.

Meanwhile, NASA has been working with a range of tech companies — including Precision Hawk, Verizon (the parent company of TechCrunch), Gryphon Sensors, Airware, Flirty, SkySpecs, ne3rd, Harris/Exelis, Unmanned Experts — to develop drone traffic management systems to keep drones from colliding with each other or critical infrastructure.

We do know that Trump has chosen Elaine Chao as Transportation Secretary. A veteran of the Department of Transportation, her duties will include oversight of the Federal Aviation Administration and other offices like the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Now, aviation and drone industry insiders are eagerly waiting to see who will join Chao’s team as FAA administrator.

This week, a drone industry trade group called the Commercial Drone Alliance sent the Trump transition team a letter with some policy and personnel recommendations. The letter encouraged Trump to “hire commercial drone experts into the new administration.”

According to the co-executive directors of the group, Lisa Ellman and Gretchen West, who are both attorneys with the law firm Hogan Lovells, the industry group is hoping Trump’s FAA will prioritize the following:

  • Rules that allow drones to fly for commercial purposes: over densely populated areas; beyond the visual line of sight of a pilot or operator; and at night, all without special waivers from the federal government.
  • An approach that involves multiple agencies in solving problems and setting rules around various drone-related problems such as aircraft traffic management, privacy, spectrum use and safety.
  • Government-industry collaboration, like the FAA’s efforts that convened drone industry executives and policy makers in the fall for a Drone Advisory Committee meeting.

“The government must make it easier for everyone to participate in the regulatory process,” Ellman says.