Friday , March 31 2023

Feds Say Drones Are For Killing, Not Commerce

I follow an account called ‘Inobites’ on Twitter and enjoy reading their thought provoking quotes on innovation like this one:

In other words, innovation is simply the process of challenging the status quo. That by definition means that government–an institution whose primary function is the preservation of the status quo–is in diametric opposition to innovation. This is especially true on the Federal level where functionaries from the President on down the line recite platitudes about ‘the promise of technology’ and its importance to our future on both a micro and macro level while working to stifle innovation and serve the needs of their financial benefactors.

The Federal government acted to undermine innovation once again today as the Federal Aviation Administration made clear that ‘commercial use’ of drones is prohibited. They went out of their way to clarify that the commercial drone ban also meant that proving a free benefit facilitated by a drone–say, free shipping–was also a no-no. The FAA gave no reasoning for this position but left open the possibility that the commercial drone ban would be revisited down the road giving a target date of ‘late 2015’. That means that the only permitted use of drone technology is for killing teenagers in Yemen (or killing Americans without due process) and for hobbyists to tinker around with (provided they don’t tinker in a National Park). Of course there is one exception to the ‘commercial drone ban’ provisio–the government has granted permission for their use to oil companies drilling in the Arctic. I think you can do the math on that.


The media has done a good job brainwashing ‘average Americans’ into thinking that drones are something to feared despite the fact that the technology is in its infancy. Despite the hysterical–and frequent–coverage of drones in the news the private sector is still trying to figure out how to innovate by leveraging autonomous aviation devices. The best known hypothetical use of drone technology was envisioned by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and dubbed ‘Amazon Prime Air’ with the goal of delivering orders in a half hour or less. UPS has also been studying drone delivery.

Innovation is the specific instrument of entrepreneurship. The act that endows resources with a new capacity to create wealth.–Peter Drucker

The FAA’s insistence that they’ll revisit the issue in a few years only underscores the stupidity and destructiveness of their desire to mandate a ban on commercial drones. Politicians like to talk about ‘American competitiveness’ a lot but you can forget about the United States taking a leadership role in what is expected to be a huge industry. The US is already *way* behind the the rest of the world in commercial drone development and will be in a deeper hole by late 2015 when the Federal government suggests they’ll get around to dealing with it. This pointless hand wringing alone is undermining the development of the drone industry in the United States. The technology and brainpower is already here but our government is cool with living in the past and maintaining the status quo while the rest of the world passes us by.

There is some hope offered by the legal system which has already issued at least one ruling questioning the FAA’s ability to prohibit commercial usage of unmanned aircraft. Other legal experts have suggested that the FAA policy is legally tenuous for additional reasons. Brendan Schulman, the lawyer that successfully argued the aforementioned case says it’s more of the same regulatory garbage from the FAA:

“It’s a purported new legal basis telling people to stop operating model aircraft for business purposes.”


Amazon and other companies looking to leverage drone technologies aren’t the only losers here. The size and scope of the commercial drone industry’s economic impact is mind boggling. The manufacture and deployment of commercial drones would create significant value and provide countless new job opportunities in many different fields. This would be a drop in the bucket compared to the value and opportunity that could be provided by startups and existing companies leveraging the new technologies in innovative ways.

Instead the Federal government is content to risk all of that by attempting to put regulatory brakes on a rapidly evolving technology. Making this even more infuriating–they don’t have a justification for doing so, let alone a good one. Apparently any technology that is new and potentially disruptive of status quo industries is at risk of being targeted by government regulators no matter how bad the collateral economic damage. Meanwhile, they’re already delivering pizza via drone in Russia.

About James Murphy

Writer and creator covering the transformative effect of technology on everything it touches. The revolution will be decentralized.

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