Law enforcement is one of the first reasons for predicting highly profitable growth in U.S. domestic drone sales. Law enforcement is also the main reason why many lawmakers and citizens refuse to allow extensive drone deployment in the U.S. without strict regulation. At issue are personal privacy and militarization of local law enforcement without the equivalent military order and discipline. The citizens do not trust state and local police with military grade surveillance devices and a Feb. 15 article in the New York Times summarizes the problem,
"Although surveillance technologies have become ubiquitous in American life, like license plate readers or cameras for catching speeders, drones have evoked unusual discomfort in the public consciousness."
Widespread resistance is on the rise throughout the U.S. The Mayor of Seattle responded to public outrage, forcing that city's police to return its drones and ban their use. The Alameda County Board of supervisors faced raucous and aggressive protest against drone deployment. According to a Feb. 8 RT article, anti-drone initiatives have curtailed drone deployments in Charlottesville, Virginia and Oregon. The Los Angeles Police Department is also holding off until federal regulations develop.
The domestic drone production industry expected to flourish after a draw down in overseas military engagements. Homeland Security has already exploited the law enforcement angle by offering grants, loaning drones to local law enforcement agencies and expediting drone deliveries. However, this happened before local governments had time to hear from the citizens. This forced local governments to regulate on their own or to back off and wait for more guidance. Meanwhile, the education and science fields have been left to find increasingly scarce funds for their drone projects.
According to a Feb. 16 UPI article, the FAA issued 1,418 domestic drone permits since 2007, with 327 that are still active. The U.S. Border Patrol has ten predator drones in operation and is the biggest user.
HR 658 is the FAA Air Transportation Modernization and Safety Improvement Act. This act takes a much more measured approach to widespread drone use in U.S. airspace. HR 658 refers to “unmanned aircraft systems", not “drones” and sets a requirement to integrate the vehicles into the national aviation system by 2015.
After assuring the nation that no armed drones will operate in the U.S., the Federal Aviation Administration will solicit proposals from states, universities and other organizations. The goal is to use six sites for testing unmanned aircraft systems. This will be a major step toward integrating domestic drones into the U.S. airspace management and regulatory systems.
The problem with FAA regulations is that many drones fly at low or very low altitude and qualify as “model aircraft”. If they meet certain weight, use and operational requirements, the drones do not fall under the FAA regulations and restrictions. The public has much less resistance to scientific, rescue and other benign uses for drones, but want nothing to do with spy vehicles that can invade the most private and intimate areas of property and life.
As a result, state and local legislative and executive branches are now scrambling to come up with working regulations that will prevent misuse of drones at local levels. The problem is whether banning non FAA regulated drones will also inhibit the use of scientific or environmental monitoring vehicles.
A new era of regulation and restraint will allow a peacetime boom in the drone industry while stopping misappropriation and incompetent handling that puts lives and privacy rights at risk. The goal is to not inhibit the use of beneficial drones in the process.