More Drones in 2015, But Not Drone Rules

FAA Part 107

FAA-Puma1

Jack Nicas

Drones made the leap from the battlefields to American backyards in 2014, raising concerns about air safety, privacy and regulation.

In 2015, unmanned aircraft in the U.S. will continue to multiply, likely exacerbating the issues of 2014 while U.S. regulators try to finish rules for the devices.

The Federal Aviation Administration missed its self-imposed deadline of Dec. 22 to propose rules for small commercial drones in the U.S.–regulations it began working on more than five years ago. The agency expects to propose the rules by early 2015, launching a public-comment period that it expects to draw tens of thousands of comments.

For that reason, 2015 will be a crucial year for drones in the U.S. Those excited for the technology–and those concerned about it–will be able to voice their opinions on how the government should regulate drones. Regulators are required to consider comments, which often help craft final rules.

Meanwhile, many U.S. entrepreneurs are using the devices despite an effective ban on their commercial use by the FAA. Officially, the FAA has approved just 13 commercial drones through a case-by-case approval process the agency is using to ease pent-up demand.

There are more than 140 pending applications for such exemptions, and the FAA plans to issue more approvals in 2015, likely turning a few big companies into drone users. Chevron Corp. wants to use drones to monitor its oil and gas plants, for instance, and State Farm Insurance Cos. wants to use them to conduct insurance inspections after natural disasters.

Another prominent company will likely turn into a drone maker in 2015. GoPro Inc., the wearable-camera maker, is aiming to launch its own line of consumer drones in late 2015, priced between $500 and $1,000, according to people familiar with the company’s plans.

Meanwhile, Amazon.com Inc. has said that 2015 would be the year it introduces its delivery drones–if the FAA establishes rules for the devices by then. But the holdup in regulations will almost certainly delay the e-retailer’s plans.

The Government Accountability Office recently said the FAA won’t issue final rules for commercial drones until late 2016 or early 2017. Delivery drones will likely have to wait until then.

Write to Jack Nicas at [email protected]

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