Big corporations such as Amazon and Facebook may be getting into the drone industry, but it’s America’s small businesses that stand to benefit most from the cheap availability of drone technology.
That’s what panelists argued before lawmakers at a House hearing Wednesday, calling for clear and uncomplicated rules on the commercial use of drones.
A Brooklyn filmmaker, the head of an Ohio aeronautics company and a university professor were among those who spoke about their use of drones for commercial purposes and urged lawmakers to speed up the Federal Aviation Administration’s rule-making process for unmanned aerial vehicles.
“Small business people like me are slugging their way through the obstacles and bureaucracy to fulfill our dreams of creating this new industry,” said Mike Gilkey, chief executive of 3D Aerial Solutions, a Dayton, Ohio-based company that provides drone technology for commercial use.
The hearing by the House Small Business Committee examined the benefits and pitfalls of allowing small businesses nationwide to use drones for activities such as crop inspection, real estate photography, film-making and other purposes. Lawmakers raised concerns about privacy issues and the liability for small businesses that use drones.
A forecast by the Arlington-based Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, a nonprofit, said commercial drone technology could potentially create more than 100,000 jobs over the next decade and add $82 billion to the economy, mainly through small businesses.
In 2012, Congress tasked the FAA with designing regulations to safely integrate drones into U.S. commercial airspace. The agency is expected to finalize its laws for commercial drone operators in about a year. Six government-approved drone testing sites, including one in Virginia, are also being used to test applications for the small quadcopters.
“We recognize the FAA prefers the incremental approach of crawl, walk, run. But right now regulation in the United States is sorely lagging behind the technology, which is sprinting,” said Brian Streem, chief executive of AeroCine, a film-making company that was the first New York business authorized to use drones for aerial video and photography.
The National Association of Realtors, which has lobbied strongly in favor of speeding up regulations, issued a letter ahead of the hearing asking for clear federal regulations.
“Commercial use of [drones] has the potential to boost the U.S. economy, bringing research and manufacturing jobs to our country along with a new crop of small businesses specializing in their uses,” the association said.
The use of drones has divided lawmakers on the Hill. While some have argued in favor of loosening the rules to keep pace with other countries, others have backed legislation calling for stricter oversight after a string of drone accidents and near-misses with commercial aircraft.
Amazon founder Jeffrey P. Bezos owns The Washington Post.