Real estate agents and marketers who fly drones to capture aerial photos and video of properties may have had their fingers crossed that the FAA would establish new rules governing the commercial use of unmanned aircraft next year.
But testimony from federal officials at a recent congressional hearing suggests there’s little chance of that happening.
Gerald Dillingham, the director of civil aviation for the Government Accountability Office, told a congressional House panel that the “consensus of opinion” is that the “integration of unmanned systems” won’t occur until 2017 or later, meaning that the FAA is almost certain to miss a September 2015 deadline for finalizing drone rules, The Verge reported.
The delays are due to “technological, regulatory and management challenges,” Matthew Hampton, the Department of Transportation’s assistant inspector general for aviation audits, told lawmakers, according to The Verge.
Hearing on drones held Wednesday by the House Transportation and Infrastructure’s Subcommittee on Aviation.
The officials’ testimony marks the latest buzzkill for drone enthusiasts, coming shortly after The Wall Street Journal reported that the proposed drone rules that FAA plans to roll out for public comment by the end of the year are more restrictive than drone supporters had hoped for.
The proposed rules would require commercial operators of all drones weighing less than 55 pounds to rack up dozens of hours flying manned aircraft, and would limit flights to daylight hours, below 400 feet and within sight of a pilot, The Journal reported.
Many drone pilots recently found themselves on shakier legal footing when the nation’s transportation safety board ruled that the FAA can crack down on people who operate drones in a reckless or careless manner, clarifying that the agency currently has some authority over drone use.
Some real estate agents and marketers had maintained that as long as they didn’t charge money for using drones, they qualified only as hobbyists, meaning they couldn’t be penalized by the FAA. But in June, the FAA explicitly stated its position that real estate agents who fly their own drones to take pictures or videos of listings are not engaged in a “hobby or recreation.”
Some drone pilots also argued that they could fly the aircraft based on a judge’s ruling that the FAA’s rules for commercial drone use weren’t valid. But the transportation safety board recently overturned that decision.
Some agents may argue that the safety board’s decision didn’t answer the question of whether the FAA may penalize pilots solely for having operated drones commercially. But for now, the only way for pilots to fly drones commercially without flouting the FAA is to acquire a special permit from the agency.
The FAA has issued only a dozen of those so far, including four exemptions announced Wednesday for companies using drones for aerial surveillance, construction site monitoring and oil rig flare stack inspections. The FAA said it has received 167 requests for exemptions to date.