President Donald Trump turned his attention to drones on Thursday as drone company executives met at the White House to discuss government involvement in the drone industry.
The common theme at Thursday’s meeting? Regulation.
“[We’ve had] too many years of excessive government regulation,” Trump said at the meeting with drone executives. “We’ve had regulation that’s been so bad, so out of line, that it’s really hurt our country. On a daily basis, we’re getting rid of regulation.”
But that wasn’t necessarily the message the drone CEOs wanted to hear.
“This is actually one industry where we need a little more regulation,” said PrecisionHawk Chief Executive Officer Michael Chasen during Thursday’s meeting. “The default is actually limiting what drone technology can do, and we need the FAA and the other regulatory bodies to have a little bit more power in opening up those opportunities.”
Chasen was referring to a number of Federal Aviation Administration rules limiting where drones can fly, including one that states drones must not fly over people, at night, or beyond the operator’s line of sight. All of these flight scenarios would need to be legalized for certain use cases, for instance package delivery, to happen.
The FAA legalized drone use for some commercial purposes in August of 2016, but has not yet created a regulatory work-around for companies looking to fly in those currently off-limits scenarios — for instance, to conduct drone delivery.
“What we need is to open up the regulations by actually creating new regulations,” Chasen told MarketWatch after the meeting. “You want regulations saying drones can fly in populated areas, or you can fly over people.”
George Mathew, CEO of drone maker Kespry, points to the FAA’s legalization of drone use as proof that more, not less, regulation is needed. He says that rule going into effect led to a “discernible uptick in business.”
“Before then, our customers didn’t know if it was legal,” Mathew said. “Having that framework in place let us know how we can operate properly within the airspace. That opened up the market.”
Major players in the drone industry including drone service provider Trumbull Unmanned, drone maker Kespry and airspace management company AirMap were among the companies in attendance at Thursday’s White House meeting. Notably absent were some of the largest drone manufacturers, including Chinese drone maker DJI.
Meeting attendees said they were optimistic about how the Trump administration is approaching drones.
“The administration understands the critical part that drones can play in opportunity, business creation and evolving industries,” Chase said. “They’re very much listening to us. They’re open to whatever they need to do to remove barriers.”