What’s the hold-up on drone regulations?

Forbes has a wide-ranging article on the FAA’s hold-up on drone regulations, and what it means for commercial innovation. It’s already familiar territory for those of us who follow the issue, but this passage regarding the FAA’s explanation jumped out at us:

So what’s the hold up? A spokesperson for the regulator told Fortune that the agency has made “significant progress toward that goal, even as it dealt with disruptions due to sequestration and a three-week government shutdown.” Then there are technical issues to work through: the spokesperson said, the agency is developing a mechanism through which manned and unmanned aircrafts can communicate to avoid collisions.

“This is an exciting new technology,” the FAA said in statement. “People want to see what it can do—and what they can do with it. Detect and Avoid and Command and Control are two key integration-related research areas that must be addressed before routine beyond-line-of sight operations will be authorized to fly.”

(emphasis added).

By emphasizing beyond-line-of sight operations, the FAA seems to tacitly admit that it has no answer for why it is holding up regulations for line-of-sight (LOS) operations. All that the agency has managed to do thus far is pick a fight over how narrowly it can define LOS. Meanwhile, it goes around playing whack-a-mole with operators who pose no real threat to public safety.

As one interviewee comments, the FAA needs to change to a risk-based approach. Give some leeway for the development of low-altitude operations that can be safely managed without posing a risk to air traffic while, at the same time, technology is being developed for the full integration of beyond-LOS vehicles. The delay is killing potential job growth and investment.

Many drone advocates fear that the ongoing delay will make the U.S a laggard, behind countries like Canada, which issues flying permits in couple of weeks. In 2013, Canada’s airspace regulator issued 945 drone permits—a significant increase compared to 345 issued in 2012. Here in the U.S. the FAA has issued 700-750 authorizations since 2006.

Getting your ass kicked by Canada is never a good sign, but that’s an embarrassing statistic.