Clear rulebook needed for game of drones

Clear rulebook needed for game of drones

One of the hottest emerging industry sectors in the Boulder Valley and Northern Colorado is drone technology. At least half a dozen young companies are experimenting with manufacturing these unmanned flying machines, while countless more entrepreneurs are using them in new ways.

Almost every month, a new manufacturer pops up or an enterprising business owner unveils a new application, whether it’s commercial photography or real estate or delivery.

But there’s nothing like a cease-and-desist order to put a damper on things. The Federal Aviation Administration has been sending out thousands of these missives, warning commercial drone enthusiasts that if they fly the devices without approval from the FAA, they face fines of up to $10,000.

Business owners who have sought the FAA’s permission to operate have had little success in obtaining approvals. In fact, the federal agency reportedly has granted only one drone company the right to operate, and that’s up in the Arctic.

Of course, it’s not uncommon for technology to outpace our government’s ability to establish proper regulations. It happens all the time. One need look no further than the National Security Agency’s flawed efforts to keep its own data secret.

The FAA’s intentions are good. The agency has said repeatedly that it is trying to protect each community’s safety and privacy as these lightweight aerial devices flood the airspace. The rapid launch of the new technology does pose dangers. Who wants a commercial jet with hundreds of people on board going nose-to-nose with an unmanned drone? Who wants the devices flying around at street level, invading our privacy and disrupting traffic? No one.

In its report on the FAA’s ban on commercial drone flight, BizWest talked with local entrepreneurs who are unclear about what they can and cannot do, and equally disturbing, have no idea when some certainty on what can be done legally will emerge.

To put a stop to the chilling effect that this regulatory uncertainty is creating, we urge the FAA to broadly publish guidance on what businesses can do now while the agency crafts a set of operating rules for these intriguing machines. We’re all for safety and privacy, but we don’t want this exciting, innovative industry to go into a stall.

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