The “Drone Integration and Zoning Act” proposed by Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) would strip the FAA of authority to manage airspace below 200 feet – and make the airspacce immediately over people’s homes private property. From the perspective of the commercial drone industry, it’s potentially disastrous: leading directly to the “patchwork quilt” of state laws that former FAA Administrator Michael Huerta warned against several years ago.
Defending the Drone Industry
So-called “Drone Federalism” acts – those that challenge FAA preemption and propose to grant individual states sweeping rights to regulate drones – have been a bi-partisan issue, with Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) proposing one of the first in 2017. Opposition, however, is also bi-partisan. In an Op-Ed published in the Morning Consult this week, the Hon. Frank LoBiondo, the former chairman of the House Aviation Subcommittee, defended the drone industry and trashed Lee’s proposal to divide responsibility for the airspace between the FAA and state, tribal and local authorities.
Calling the drone industry a “Technical Revolution of the 21st century,” LoBiondo writes: “We are in the nascent stages of unmanned aircraft systems — or drones — completely transforming how we do business, deliver services, and transport people. It is an exciting and unchartered era; one we must allow to take off.”
A Solid Argument
LoBiondo’s record and his politics place him in an ideal position to make the argument for FAA authority over the airspace. “As a Republican, I generally view Washington-driven edicts with skepticism and most federal mandates as overreach,” writes LoBiondo: but continues to point out that the FAA has spent more than a decade in research, development and testing of drone operations – and are uniquely qualified for the regulatory role that they hold.
LoBiondo then goes on to point out examples where “a holistic approach” is preferable to individual state regulations. “Many public policy initiatives are best left to the states to decide — regulating the national air space is not one,” he concludes. “The FAA and its federal partners are best suited to continue to oversee the safe integration of drones at any and all altitudes.”