Commercial drones, then, could be a fundamental technology driving innovation and growth in coming years. As the world’s traditional leader in aviation technology (and, for better or worse, the world’s foremost military drone pioneer), the U.S. ought to command this industry.
There’s only one hitch: companies like Airware can’t sell many of their products in the U.S. That’s because the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has been slow to write the regulations drone makers need to test and operate in U.S. airspace. This past February, after years of missed deadlines, the FAA finally published a draft version of regulations for small drones—a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM), in Washington argot. The finished version of the rule probably won’t be ready until late 2016 or early 2017, according to the Government Accountability Office. Meanwhile, countries such as the UK, France, Switzerland, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan have had rules for testing and using drones on the books for several years—rules significantly less restrictive than those in the FAA’s recent NPRM.