Editorial: The FAA needs to make its drone rules now


Whether it’s Riverhead’s Cardboard Boat Race, the Shelter Island 10K, a bird’s-eye photo of the Main Road corridor, the Enterprise Park at Calverton or the waterfront in New Suffolk, this media company has employed drone operators on a number of occasions to better tell the stories of our lives and times. Larger news outlets across the U.S. have also used drones to cover breaking news events that are difficult to document on foot or by car, such as floods and mass protests.

Images captured from these unmanned flying devices are also used by realtors, travel agents, chambers of commerce and other businesses. Even Amazon hopes to one day use drones to deliver packages to homes and businesses.

Yet much of the attention they’ve been getting lately has focused on the negative, from Peeping Toms using them to spy on NYC apartment dwellers, to worries about a remotely piloted aircraft possibly interfering with a commercial airliner. The federal government has been slow to respond with regulations that would simultaneously address safety and privacy issues and legalize commercial use of these unmanned aerial vehicles by trained and responsible operators. Under current rules, only the recreational use of drones is fully lawful, so long as the devices don’t disrupt air traffic.

• Read More: While the FAA makes new rules, local drone pilots are left waiting

The FAA has spent years crafting regulations and still seems likely to miss an official deadline set by Congress for enacting these rules. When any new measures will be adopted now seems unclear.

That’s probably just how government bureaucracies like it — who enjoys deadline pressure?

But in the meantime, many commercial drone operators are keeping their aircraft grounded while they could otherwise be contributing to their local economies and earning a bit of a living for themselves. For those who are still airborne — well, it’s pretty much impossible to enforce the outdated laws currently on the books anyway.

The FAA needs to come up with regulations that are flexible enough to support legitimate commercial uses but still address real safety security and privacy concerns. That shouldn’t have to take too much longer. Otherwise, a hodgepodge of local laws — which we’re already seeing in Suffolk County — will emerge that could unduly restrict both careers and recreation for many law-abiding citizens.