The leading advocacy group for drones AUVSI has spoken out against the facilitation of aviation and declared that a model of the “drone toll” is a “poison pill” for the industry.
So-called flight facilitation would enable the governments of the states and local authorities to create drone toll lanes in the sky. This not only threatens the creation of a complex and costly system for the navigation of commercial drone operators, but also directly calls into question federal control of the airspace. That challenge could lead to what former FAA Administrator Michael Huerta referred to as a “patchwork quilt” of drone regulations across the country: and would undermine federal efforts to establish clear regulations based on safety.
Drone federalism isn’t new – but it’s an issue that keeps popping up on both sides of the aisle. Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein’s “Drone Federalism Act” was one of the first to be introduced in 2017: Most recently, Republican Senator Lee introduced new versions. That effort, AUVSI says, is a disaster – one that could kill the industry.
AUVSI has a long history of challenging efforts to weaken the federal authority of airspace, including opposition to attempts by federal, state, state and / or local governments to regulate drones. This is a non-starter for the drone industry and the emerging Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) / Urban Air Mobility (UAM) industry. A patchwork quilt from 50 states with 50 different rules would be a disaster for the industry, would weaken the strict safety standards of the federal government and impose enormous costs on consumers and drone operators.
No drone toll lanes
Accordingly, AUVSI strongly rejects all attempts to compromise safety and remove the airspace regulator from the FAA. This edition places AUVSI in direct contradiction to bills such as those by Senator Lee at the federal level and a number of bills currently in place, including proposals in Texas, Louisiana, West Virginia and Mississippi. However, some of the state bills go far beyond the mere fight against federalism and also suggest state and local control through so-called “avigation easements” or what are essentially toll lanes in the sky for drones. This is not an entirely new concept – it is based on a report by a DC think tank – but since its inception, the UAS and AAM industries have generally opposed proposals for aviation toll lanes. The drone toll model may be a money maker for some companies that want to get into the front end of airspace management and levy taxes or fees for access. However, it is a poison pill for the emerging commercial UAS industry and the yet-to-be-realized AAM marketplace. Taxing industry for low-altitude access to airspace before the industry is required to conduct widespread commercial operations and making a profit for most companies would kill the industry and its innovative approach to business revolution.
Drone federalism, flight facilitation, and other efforts by local governments to regulate drones ultimately harm the communities they want to protect, as well as the drone industry. It’s up to all industry stakeholders to train governments in their communities – and make sure they demonstrate safe, beneficial, and beneficial use of drones.