UAS Want Versus UAS Need

By Patrick C. Miller | November 25, 2014

As the Rolling Stones famously noted:

You can't always get what you want
But if you try sometimes you just might find
You get what you need

The big buzz in the UAS world this week is an article in the Wall Street Journal citing unnamed sources on what the coming federal regulations for small unmanned aerial systems might look like. Even though there’s no way to be certain the regulations the FAA eventually implements will match what’s stated in the article, the speculation triggered a great deal of angst about what they require, prohibit or don’t provide.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the FAA’s yet-to-be-released sUAS regulations are comparable to what the Wall Street Journal said they’ll be. Why? Because it makes sense that they’d be similar to the regulations developed for the six (later seven) cinematography and aerial photography companies for which the FAA issued exemptions back in September. And based on the WSJ article, they appear quite similar.

When those exemptions were issued at the request of the Motion Picture Association of America, there was also a great deal of negativity expressed about the restrictive nature of the regulations and the limitations they imposed. This created the perception that the companies receiving them were dissatisfied and unhappy with the FAA.

However, getting a response straight from the horse’s mouth proved an interesting experience. When I spoke to representatives from the six companies which initially received the FAA exemptions, they were—for the most part--pleased that they could at last use UAVs commercially and were satisfied with the process.

It was a pleasant surprise to learn that while everyone didn’t get everything they wanted, they did get what they needed—the ability to legally use UAS in the production of movies, TV shows and commercials. It also established a clear line of demarcation between the professionals who’ve been in the business for years and inexperienced UAS operators seeking to capitalize on a need.

As Preston Ryon of SnapRoll Media told me: “Just because anybody can buy a UAV doesn’t make it safe for them to be out there flying. We’re all for other people going through the same process we went through so that they can be licensed and safe. There’s a need for more than just six operators.”

When the FAA finally issues its sUAS regulations, nobody’s going to get everything they want. Nonetheless, it will represent a significant step forward in the commercialization process, and many will be pleased to that they can operate legally with the FAA’s blessing.