Lack of Clear Flight Rules Hampers Commercial Drone Adoption

NEWS ANALYSIS: The lack of detailed drone use rules paired with drone dealers who give out information that's incomplete or just plain wrong add to the risk for commercial users of UAVs.

Commercial Drones 2

ORLANDO, Fla.—Representatives of drone manufacturers, distributors and dealers say that getting the information that businesses need to enable safe and lawful drone flights is difficult at best.

In addition, some sellers of drones simply don't have staff trained to provide help. In a few cases, drone dealers are intentionally passing out erroneous information on regulations and restrictions regarding commercial drone use in an effort to get a quick sale, according to industry authorities.

Fortunately, many of the dealers and others at the Drone Dealers Expo here are trying to provide the best advice they can to their business customers. But everyone here that I spoke to agreed that the Federal Aviation Administration really needs to provide consistent and coherent information on what the rules are, who the rules apply to and under what circumstances do they take effect.

Much of the confusion stems from the recently published rules for drone registration that went into effect in December, 2015. Those rules were for drones intended for hobbyists or other private uses. The online drone registration forms lay out the proper uses and other rules very clearly.

Many users think they also apply to commercial drone use, but they don't. Business users expose themselves to fines and potential criminal action if they try to use the consumer registration rules for a drone used for business purposes.

While the FAA has published rules governing commercial drone use, a number of drone operators I talked to at the conference say that those rules are very difficult for end users and many dealers to understand.

Furthermore, Section 333 of the federal aviation regulations does not cover all of the rules concerning drone usage. As a result, some end users have backed away from using drones, some have decided to ignore the rules, and some just can't figure out what to do and are just hoping for the best when flying a commercial drone.

"Businesses need to find a subject matter expert," said Jennifer Patterson, Unmanned Aerial Vehicle category manager for Wynit Distribution in Syracuse, New York. Patterson said that a number of drone experts, notably former military drone operators, have set up consultancies designed to help businesses figure out how to operate drones legally. She also noted that it's critical for potential business users to receive training in both the operation and use of drones, including training in the rules.

Key among those rules is the requirement to register drones used for business and to make sure that they have a qualified person at the controls.

"What I'm seeing is that over 50 percent of people who purchase the products don't even know there's a registration requirement," said Christopher LoPresti, chief pilot of Terrestrial Imaging, a commercial drone service operating near New York City. "For those that are aware of the registration process, the majority aren't aware of the difference between commercial and recreational drone use," LoPresti said.

LoPresti said that he suspects that many of the drone users that are unaware of the rules are hobbyists who decide to earn a few dollars with their hobby drone by performing aerial photography such as photos for real estate agents.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...