Publication Title

Stanford Technology Law Review

Document Type



A rapidly growing commercial drone industry has prompted the introduction of numerous regulations governing American airspace. Congress has tasked the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) with “developing plans for the use of the navigable airspace to ensure the safety of aircraft and the efficient use” of American skies. While well-intended, the FAA has departed from Congressional will by imposing an excessive regulatory regime that threatens to stifle drone technology and innovation. In fact, many FAA regulations fail to address the very problem they seek to fix, namely the safety of our airspace. The unfortunate result is that myriad scientific and pragmatic applications of cuttingedge drone technology have been stalled or thwarted entirely inside the United States, forcing innovation efforts to move abroad.

FAA regulations must be dramatically scaled back and reformed to reflect the countless benefits and comparatively minimal risks associated with drone technology. The current rules cover innocuous use cases, are too restrictive even when addressing cases where regulation makes sense, and fail to permit efficient technical approaches to reaching regulatory objectives. The nonsensical rule requiring any person over the age of thirteen to register her recreational “Christmas toy” drone is an excessive response to public safety concerns, especially as far more prominent threats to public safety, even guns, have no similar registration requirements. More pragmatically, the line-of-sight regulations that prevent pilots from using vision-enhancing devices such as first-person view technology needlessly restrict the commercial applications of drones, including long-distance package delivery. Finally, while the FAA and other regulatory bodies currently control the spaces in which drones can be legally flown, drone manufacturers are far better equipped to accomplish this goal themselves by incorporating geofencing technology (which directly prevents drones from flying into restricted areas like airports). In sum, American laws and regulations governing the flight of commercial drones are overly restrictive, unnecessarily stifle valuable innovation, and must be revised to ensure that the true potential of drone technology can be realized.



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