The FAA has taken two additional steps along its Congressionally-mandated journey to introduce UASs (unmanned aerial systems) into U.S. airspace. While still not allowing UAVs to be used commercially, the FAA has released its privacy statement for future UAS test sites, as well as the first version of its “roadmap” for integrating UASs into the national airspace.
The Roadmap is significant, because it means the FAA is finally on its way to setting final regulations that UAS operations. With development of UASs growing each year, UAS operators need certainty as to what will and will not be allowed by the FAA. Unfortunately, most private UAS operation is currently prohibited, except for certain exceptions for universities and companies working to develop (but not operate) UASs. Commercial UAS developers will be unwilling to invest resources into new products if they feel that the FAA will turn around and outlaw their brand new products. This first of likely several Roadmaps will give operators and developers a better idea of what is coming down the pike.
The second document, the privacy statement, released by the FAA is interesting for a different reason. Citizens, but mostly politicians, have been hounding the FAA to begin introducing privacy regulations. Until now, the FAA has mostly resisted issuing policy, or even policy statements, regarding privacy, since safety, not privacy, is the FAA’s main expertise. Recently, there has been a rash of legislation and proposed legislation at the state and local level geared towards regulating UASs. Unfortunately, many of these laws were written by legislators who know fairly little about UASs, other than the “drones” they see on TV or in movies. By issuing this privacy statement regarding future UAS test sites, the FAA can hopefully start to get out ahead of overzealous state and federal lawmakers.
The release of these two statements is an important step forward for advocates of UAS technology. Hopefully, they will also allay some of the fears of those who worry about privacy concerns.