The lobbying effort to allow commercial drone use looks set to take a major hit, with the Federal Aviation Administration planning to issue a series of long-awaited regulations as soon as the end of December.
And given what the FAA will be proposing, according to a report this week in the Wall Street Journal, businesses hoping to make use of the technology aren’t going to be happy. That includes those in what might be called the “little drone lobby.”
Commercial drone proponents come from a surprising variety of industries. According to 2014 filings, representatives from the retail, broadcast and agriculture industries lobbied for the right to use drones to enhance profits.
Perhaps the highest-profile party is Amazon Prime Air, the online retailer’s drone delivery wing unveiled earlier this year on 60 Minutes. Amazon Prime Air hired top-ranked lobbying firm Akin Gump in June, paying the company $120,000 through September to influence policy in their favor.
The National Association of Broadcasters, a lobbying power player, has lobbied for the ability to use drones for news gathering. Lobbying on the Drone Aircraft Privacy and Transparency Act of 2013 has accounted for a portion of the NAB’s $13.9 million in 2014 lobbying to date.
According to the American Farm Bureau, “drones hold great promise for agriculture.” Farmers could use the eye in the sky to keep track of large swaths of land and crops. The Bureau has spent a total of $1.9 million on lobbying through the first three quarters of 2014.
Even the lobbying powerhouse National Association of Realtors weighed in on the issue earlier this year, hoping Realtors could use them to take aerial photographs and videos of their listings. Though not listed the topic wasn’t listed in the group’s lobbying filings, Realtors did participate in an FAA working group on the subject.
As reported, the proposed regulations would constrain all of these activities. The FAA will require pilots to have training in a real cockpit, and to maintain a line of sight at all times — something that would prevent farmers or those in real estate from using them in desired ways.
The FAA also appears to be planning to consider all drones weighing less than 55 pounds as one under the law — not at all what the Small UAV Coalition was looking for. Formed earlier this fall, the group has already spent more than $70,000 lobbying. The coalition’s executive director is a lobbyist: Akin Gump’s Michael Drobac, who also represents Amazon Prime Air.
The coalition, whose members include Amazon, Google and GoPro, avoids using the term “drone,” possibly to avoid reminding the public of the technology’s military applications.
According to the report, an announcement from the FAA is expected as soon as the end of 2014. But all is not lost for the little drone lobby: A public comment period will follow, with a final set of rules not expected until a year or two later – which leaves plenty of time for a lobbying air raid.
John is the Center’s fall 2014 reporting intern. He has a B.A. in history from Virginia Tech and an M.A. in journalism and public affairs from American University. He previously worked at LegiStorm and as a freelance researcher.
This article first appeared in the OpenSecrets.org. Click here to go to the original.