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The Need for a Goldilocks Policy on Drones

The FAA has dragged its feet, but some rules are needed, one drone entrepreneur says.

Shutterstock / Piotr Debowski

The final session at the Bloomberg Next Big Thing Summit on Monday focused on the promise of commercial drones, as well as the regulatory challenges that stand in the way of fuller adoption.

The Federal Aviation Administration has, by most accounts, moved glacially in its efforts to craft rules covering the use of unmanned aircraft. Meanwhile, it has moved aggressively against some operators who have ignored temporary restrictions put in place, notably attempting to fine videographer Raphael Pirker $10,000 for flying a drone over the University of Virginia campus in 2011.

In March, a judge ruled that the FAA had overreached. But Pirker’s attorney, Brendan Schulman of Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP, argued onstage that the government’s actions (and lack thereof) are hurting the domestic drone industry. He and others said the regulatory uncertainty is allowing development and commercialization to leap ahead in nations with fewer or more mature rules.

Bloomberg’s Cory Johnson noted that the Libertarian set would argue there’s no need for rules at all; that regulations just get in the way of industry. But there are legitimate privacy and safety issues that come with allowing amateurs or professionals to fill the skies with heavy flying objects equipped with blades and cameras.

I, for one, would strongly prefer they not crash into buildings, planes or my head.

Jonathan Downey, founder and CEO of Airware, said there are two equal risks: Excessive regulation and none at all.

“We worry about both extreme ends of the spectrum,” he said, adding that a drone crashed about 20 feet away from him as he was having dinner on a recent evening. “We worry about a day when people are flying drones in unsafe … manners.”

But he added the rules shouldn’t be so strict that only large companies can afford the cost of compliance. In other words, the FAA should strive for a kind of Goldilocks middle ground: Not too strict, not too lenient, but just right. And the sooner the better.

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