New drone bill creates need for safety guidance, but limits innovation
Following the introduction of the Consumer Drone Safety Act by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Daniel Castro, vice president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), released the following statement:
ITIF commends Senators Feinstein and Schumer for introducing legislation that would open up more opportunities for consumers to use unmanned aircraft systems (UAS)—commonly referred to as drones—in new, exciting, and safe ways. This legislation would create needed safety guidance for consumer UAS manufacturers and consumers who want to use their devices beyond line-of-sight and the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) current model aircraft rules.
However, the Consumer Drone Safety Act’s anti-tampering requirements go too far, vastly limiting the hobbyist’s ability to tinker and experiment with this innovative technology. UAS as we know them today were created due to a culture of innovation, in which amateur inventors and model aircraft hobbyists built and improved upon the technology organically. As written, this bill would prohibit consumers from ‘jailbreaking’ their drones and put the brakes on permission-less innovation.
A better path forward would be to eliminate the anti-tampering requirement and instead impose steep penalties on anyone who violates FAA safety rules with a drone whose safety features have been disabled. This type of policy would allow for legitimate experimentation, while creating a safeguard to disincentivize negligent behaviour.
The Consumer Drone Safety Act is a small, but important, step forward. Congress and the FAA should continue to look for opportunities to enable commercial UAS usage that is risk-based and technology-neutral. By modernizing its FAA safety rules, the United States can promote innovation and remain competitive in the rapidly growing global market for drone technology.