Getting in the Way of Progress

A few days ago Amazon announced, as reported in India’s Economic Times, it will be testing drone deliveries in Mumbai and Bangalore, both locations where it has warehouses.  Apparently, it’s plan is to use an octocopter for deliveries taking 90 minutes to three hours.

Amazon previously filed a petition for an exemption with the FAA to implement a UAS test program, on its own property, for deliveries.  Clearly they are a sophisticated company, and they knew when they filed their petition that the prospects were slim for actually being granted permission to deliver packages anytime soon.  Amazon has realized that if it wants to get any real-world experience, it is going to have to go overseas.

Almost every other country in the world currently provides a more hospitable environment for UAS operations than the United States.  In making this observation, we’re not being critical of the FAA, so long as they actually start to grant exemptions sooner rather than later and they publish the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) for small UASs in the next few months.

While all of this taking place, another series of lawsuits have been filed in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.  These actions, like the failed Texas EquuSearch suit, seek to overturn the FAA’s ban on commercial UAS flights.  These new suits, however, attack from a different front, challenging the FAA’s issuance of the Special Rules for Model Aircraft.  Interestingly, as we previously pointed out, the same lawyer who filed the EquuSearch lawsuit, which the Court of Appeals dismissed, filed this lawsuit as well.  We predict this latest attempt at challenging the FAA will also fail.

We don’t begrudge anyone the right to file a lawsuit.  It’s been said that in a town with one lawyer, that lawyer will starve.  Add a second lawyer and they’ll both get rich suing one another’s clients.

Suing the FAA, first in Texas EquuSearch and now with three suits over the latest rules on model aircraft, while certainly an interesting academic exercise, is a losing proposition.  More importantly, it distracts the FAA from focusing what it ought to be doing with all of its energy, namely dealing with Section 333 Exemptions and the small UAS NPRM.

Much like Amazon, to whom we genuinely wish success in India, having failed in EquuSearch, the lawyer who just sued the FAA is apparently going to just keep on trying.  Unfortunately, such efforts do nothing to unlock the potential of the UAS industry in a structured and safe manner.

(Originally posted August 26, 2014)

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