The Federal Aviation Administration has officially missed its Congressionally mandated deadline to figure out how to fully integrate drones into the national airspace.
When Congress passed the FAA Modernization Act in 2012, it gave the agency until September 30, 2015 to fully regulate commercial drones for use in the United States. Well, it's October 1, and we're left with a patchwork of regulatory band-aids, quasi-legal "guidelines," and a small drone rule that still hasn't gone into effect yet.
This news shouldn't surprise anyone. The agency has missed most every milestone—both internal and lawmaker mandated—that has been set for it. The last two years have been fraught with lawsuits, confusion on enforcement within its own local offices (some FAA agents have told pilots they can't post videos on YouTube, for example), and various conflicting guidelines as to who can fly a drone where, and for what purposes.
2015 has been a bit less crazy than 2014, as the FAA has stepped back from its no-commercial-drones-whatsoever policy and has started issuing what are known as Section 333 exemptions, which allow certain drone businesses to essentially "opt out" of the current regulatory scheme. Understandably, this too has caused confusion.
"While the FAA has hit some milestones in the integration process, it has yet to finalize small UAS rules, let alone facilitate the full integration of UAS that Congress contemplated in 2012," a group of 29 organizations and businesses in the drone industry wrote in a letter to the FAA Thursday. "In the absence of regulations, American businesses and innovators are left sitting on the sidelines or operating under a restrictive exemption process. Simultaneously, states and municipalities are attempting to fill the current regulatory void, at times with laws that they may not have the authority to enforce."
It's doubtful that the latest missed deadline—which was the most important one outlined in the 2012 law—is going to cause the FAA to speed up its integration in any meaningful fashion. As early as May 2014, Congress acknowledged that the agency would probably miss this deadline.
In a report published then, lawmakers noted that they were "concerned that the FAA may not be well positioned to manage effectively the introduction of [drones] in the United States" and specifically noted that a missed deadline was likely.
"The FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 directed the FAA to integrate UAS into the National Airspace System by 2015," lawmakers wrote in the report. "However, it is uncertain when the FAA can integrate UAS into the Nation’s airspace and what will be required to achieve the goal."
Almost a year and a half later, not much has changed. To make matters worse, the FAA expects more than 1 million consumer drones to be sold this holiday season.