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Message to FAA: Time to Let U.S. Lead on Drones

Gary Shapiro, Consumer Technology Association (CTA)™
Late last month, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced camera-equipped drones will be allowed on movie sets.

Late last month, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced camera-equipped drones will be allowed on movie sets. Although the FAA’s decision is limited, it nevertheless stands as an important milestone for what one day will be a thriving commercial industry that will create thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in economic activity.

Drones and other unmanned aircraft promise to revolutionize a wide array of consumer and commercial activities, creating new businesses and jobs. We already see these devices being used to assist in a variety of innovative applications, from aerial coverage for sports and real estate to assistance in search and rescue and disaster relief missions to providing novel new camera angles to capture professional and personal video footage. In other words, drones are an economic game-changer – one that will transform the way human beings do business.

Indeed, our own market research forecasts the global market for consumer drones will approach $300 million by 2018 on factory-to-dealer sales of just under a million units. This marks a strong increase over CEA’s forecast for 2014 of $84 million in global revenues on sales of 250,000 units.

Until its recent decision, the FAA has pursued an especially cautious approach to drones. On one hand, this is understandable. The FAA’s primary concern is keeping the skies safe for human travel and drones greatly complicate that task, particularly because U.S. air traffic is the busiest in the world. Moreover, incidents of individual misuse of drones, which have led to fines and other legal action, gives the impression that drones represent a kind of Wild West of the skies. Not that these concerns are entirely unfounded, but they shouldn’t be allowed to keep legitimate companies whose intentions for drone activity are entirely safe remain on the sidelines.

In the 2012 FAA reauthorization legislation, Congress mandated the FAA to come up with a plan for “safe integration” of drones by September 30, 2015. Meeting this deadline should be one of the FAA’s top priorities in the coming months. The United States simply can’t afford any further delays in building an appropriate regulatory framework for this nascent category.

This is not to say that drone innovation or research isn’t forging ahead. The 2015 International CES® will feature a new marketplace highlighting the burgeoning technology in drones, unmanned aircraft and other unmanned systems controlled by onboard computers or remotely from the ground. Indeed, U.S. companies are poised to lead this new revolutionary industry; the FAA can help by providing timely, innovation-friendly regulatory guidance.