DOT’s Suspension of Airline Proposal Bad Sign for Drone Industry: Group

Airline groups may be cheering the Department of Transportation’s decision to halt work on an Obama administration proposal that would force airlines to be more transparent about additional fees tacked on to airfares.

But to the drone industry, it’s an alarming signal that the agency may not release long-awaited drone safety regulations anytime soon either.

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The DOT announced on March 2 that it would suspend the comment period for airline consumer protection proposals it issued last October that would have required airlines include ancillary fees in displayed ticket prices. The department also said it would delay implementation of a separate regulation calling for airlines to disclose when they mishandle wheelchairs or motorized scooters.

The airline industry has been opposed to what they see as attempts to re-regulate the industry after Congress deregulated it in 1978. Top trade association Airlines for America applauded Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao’s decision to suspend the consumer proposals.

But the announcement was not welcome news to the Commercial Drone Alliance, which represents companies like Google.

“It just kind of shows that there could be some skittishness within the Department of Transportation and other agencies,” Alliance co-executive director Gretchen West told Bloomberg BNA. “This isn’t really relevant to what we’re talking about with commercial drones, but it kind of signals that this is what is starting to happen.”

The latest move from DOT comes after President Donald Trump signed an executive order Jan. 30 requiring that every time an agency proposes or finalizes a rule, it pick two that could be eliminated.

West said the regulatory freeze could have a big impact on drone safety regulations that were in the works under the Obama administration, such as a proposal to allow commercial drones to fly over people not involved in their operation.

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Unlike other areas of aviation, there are not many regulations for drones, which is still a fairly new technology. The FAA originally planned to release the proposal at the end of last year but postponed it due to security concerns.

Now it is unclear when that rule will be released. Also uncertain is whether the FAA might still move forward with its plans to start drafting regulations that would allow drones to fly beyond the line of sight this year.

“There certainly are regulations that people would rather not have, I would say, in the aviation industry,” West said. “Ours is probably more unique in that we need these regulations. I mean, we’re still such a new industry that hasn’t been operating commercially for decades.”

The Commercial Drone Alliance sent a letter to the Trump administration on Feb. 9 asking that new drone rules be considered “deregulatory actions” instead of new regulations because they would enable the industry to grow and not add regulatory burdens.

The Small UAV Coalition, another drone industry group, sent out a similar letter on Feb. 17 requesting the administration exempt drone regulations from the 2-for-1 executive order.