It looks like we'll have to wait a few more years before order can be restored to a sky increasingly full of drones. Despite having set a deadline for September 2015, the Federal Aviation Administration admitted it's going to take even longer than expected to finish its rules for commercial drones. The Government Accountability Office now says the rules won't be done until 2017—at the earliest.
Gerald Dillingham, the GAO's director of civil aviation, just named the date. When he broke the news, the official referred to the final rules as "the consensus of opinion in the integration of unmanned systems." And that's likely what's taking so long: The government has to agree on something important and that typically takes forever. Top FAA safety official Peggy Gilligan told a congressional panel, "We all agree that the project is taking too long."
Can we also agree that it's getting dangerous at this point? Heck, this week alone, we've learned that cases of drones fly too close to airplanes are climbing. (It's unclear how many of these drones, if any, are being used for commercial purposes.) Last weekend, a mistletoe-laden drone being flown inside of a TGI Friday's cut somebody's face open. Since it was part of a dumb holiday marketing campaign, you could argue that this was an example of a commercial drone in action. The FAA currently doesn't permit commercial drone use outside of a few exceptions. But without any rules, it's proven very hard to police this.
Obviously, writing these new drone rules is not an easy task. Airspace design is complicated enough as it is, but when you consider adding thousands upon thousands of small aircraft, the task of figuring out exactly how that will work safely is downright difficult. The FAA is considering all kinds of new measures, like requiring pilot licenses to fly drones, that will piss off a lot of people. Safety, however, remains paramount. That said, it's much less safe for the drone airspace to remain entirely unregulated.
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