Amazon, Hollywood and the Fight to Legalize Civilian Drones
U.S. laws governing drone use by civilians still lags behind in dealing with the technology and the cultural influence of aerial drones. Anyone with a Parrot A.R. Drone can legally fly it around their home or neighborhood, unless they accept money to do so. Commercial drone law is still quite murky. Defense contractors are not the only ones with an interest in drone technology. Giants like Amazon and industries as diverse as film-making, real estate marketing, and search and rescue all have a strong and growing interest in drones as camera and small cargo-delivery platforms.
The Motion Picture Association of America reportedly spent $4.11 million over 2012 and 2013 lobbying for several issues, including the legalization of drones for use in movie production. Both the National Association of Broadcasters and National Association of Realtors have thrown their cash in the ring as well, with the hope of getting drones approved for use in aerial photography. There’s hope they might get their wish. In March, a judge ruled that a man could use a drone to shoot a movie on a college campus, despite current FAA regulations to the contrary. That case is now headed to the US Court of Appeals. However, even if the court rules in favor of drones, the fight will be far from over.
There are a total of 68 groups currently lobbying regulators to legalize drones, split in half between defense and non-defense groups. 28 are actually universities and local governments who want the opportunity to build drone-friendly test facilities. Farmers are also getting in on the action. The National Agricultural Aviation Association wants to replace crop dusters with drones. And who could forget Amazon’s Prime Air service? The argument can and has been made that the premature announcement of the service was really just a clever lobbying strategy by Jeff Bezos. What better way to influence lawmakers than an angry mob who wants their next pair of socks air lifted to their backyard? (Amazon shot that demo outside the US, BTW).
If the technology and public demand is so strongly behind these campaigns, what’s stopping lawmakers from dealing with the issue? Some are concerned that the recent rise in cheap, advanced drone technology may put low-flying passenger aircraft at risk of colliding with drones. Because live and recording cameras are a common feature on drones, privacy is also a concern. For these reasons, and because Washington smells the possibility of revenue generated from license fees and fines, we can expect drone use to become another government-regulated part of life. Federal lawmakers expect to receive new FAA-drafted regulation proposals in 2014, but that means it is likely the first laws governing aspects of drone use won’t start to take effect until 2015.
Until then, it will be interesting to see how effective pro-drone lobbyists will be in their efforts to sway politicians to their viewpoint.