WSJ: Commercial Drone Operators Disregard FAA Rules

Image: WSJ: Commercial Drone Operators Disregard FAA Rules

Monday, 12 May 2014 07:53 AM

By Elliot Jager

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Civilian drone operators are flying circles around the Federal Aviation Administration, which has limited authority to regulate their activities even when these endanger the safety of commercial airline passengers, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The near-collision of a US Airways regional jet and a drone on March 22 at 2,300 feet over Tallahassee, Fla., has added import to resolving the problem, but the drone industry and federal regulators are at odds over enforcement, the Journal reported.

The drone issue "can't get any more important to the FAA than it is today," Jim Williams, head of the FAA's unmanned-aircraft office, told the Journal. "But unfortunately, the regulatory process is very slow and deliberative."

Commercial drones are widely used in farming, filmmaking, the real estate industry, and advertising. The agency is less concerned about the farmers who are treated, unofficially, as hobbyists. The other commercial operators, however, basically disobey existing FAA rules.

The agency's limited resources and questionable legal authority have led to erratic enforcement and have buoyed drone operators, according to the Journal.

When the agency fined a drone pilot for recklessness, an administrative law judge ruled that the FAA had no legal authority to enforce its drone safety guidelines. The result is that operators are undeterred by FAA pronouncements, a federal official told the Journal.

Mike Fortin, who runs a company in Orlando, Fla., that films public events and commercials, ignored a notice from the FAA informing him that he was violating federal policy. "My response to the FAA was to piss off," he told the Journal.

The agency has several dozen staffers to look into commercial drone use, draft policy, and vet permits for non-commercial organizations such as law enforcement to fly drones.

In November 2013, the FAA said it had a road map for "a comprehensive plan to safely accelerate the integration" of civilian drones into the national airspace system.

The FAA now says it will present rules in November on how drones may be certified for particular uses. The procedures might not become official and enforceable for years to come, the Journal reported.

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