RPT-Industry lobbyists take aim at proposed FAA drone rules

Tue Feb 24, 2015 8:58am EST
 
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By David Morgan and Deepa Seetharaman

WASHINGTON/SAN FRANCISCO Feb 23 (Reuters) - Businesses hoping to capitalize on the commercial potential of drones are preparing to push back against proposed regulations that would strictly limit how the aircraft can be used.

During a 60-day public comment period on the rules, lobbyists representing a range of industries, from Internet giants Amazon.com Inc and Google Inc to aerospace firms and the news media, say they will try to convince regulators that cutting-edge technologies make some of the limitations proposed last week by the Federal Aviation Administration unnecessary.

Spending on lobbying by special interests that list drones as an issue surged from $20,000 in 2001 to $35 million in 2011 to more than $186 million in 2014, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks lobbying activity. And the proposed rules provide a new focus of lobbying efforts.

If approved as written, the new FAA rules would lift the current near-ban on flying drones for commercial purposes, but its restrictions would make many business applications, such as package delivery, unfeasible.

Among other constraints, the proposed rules would limit commercial drones to an altitude of 500 feet, allow flights only during daytime hours and require operators to keep the aircraft in their sights at all times. Drones could not be flown near airports or directly over humans. Officials say these precautions are needed for safety.

But drone makers and other firms with a stake in unmanned aircraft technology say they are already working on features that would allow drones to "sense and avoid" obstacles including other aircraft and prevent link disruptions that could cause a drone to lose contact with ground operations.

For example, Amazon.com is developing autonomous drones that would navigate via GPS and use redundant safety mechanisms and sensor arrays to avoid accidents as part of a "Prime Air" drone delivery service it hopes to launch.   Continued...