The current 24/7 news cycle is in overdrive trying to determine which country will grant asylum to Edward Snowden, the man who leaked details of the U.S. surveillance programs. As Snowden travels from Hong Kong to Russia to perhaps Cuba, Venezuela, Ecuador (or someplace else), we are reminded that people can be more dangerous than things. Whether in government or the media, men can be more dangerous than bombs, in other words. That fact is often lost in the public debates when unmanned aerial vehicles (“UAVs”) are pejoratively referred to as “drones.”
In fact, UAVs serve important positive missions, not least of which is the application of military grade surveillance to agriculture.
Some joke about the use of drones for food deliver (“TacoCopter“), but there are real dollar-and-cents advantages in UAV use. For example, in Alaska, drones are being used to inspect oil and gas.
In the United States, currently, there are no means to obtain from the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA“) an authorization for commercial UAV operations in the national airspace. Manufacturers may apply for an experimental certificate for the purposes of R&D, market survey and crew training. This is “do-able,” but difficult from a legal perspective. Commercial UAV operators are stuck in an ambiguous regulatory atmosphere with respect to UAV laws. The standards for accomplishing provisional authorization for UAV use are uncertain as is the time frame for obtaining authorization.
It would seem logical that legislators around the country should carve out particular allowances for certain commercial UAV operations in the frenzy to pass anti-drone legislation arising out of privacy concerns.