With my Master in Comparative Law, I swayed from the focus on American law governing the commercial use of drones, the topic of an interview with Julien Gathelier of Drones at Home, a journalists’ site addressing drone issues. My international take is this:
Compare the legal environment for American drone makers and their customers with that of, say French maker Parrot. In the European Union, many nations around France have clear legal rules for commercial drone activities. As a result, the market knows what is legal and can buy with confidence. No wonder a basic Parrot drone can be had for $299, including a camera, GPS and tablet or cellphone navigation app while a basic American drone will run $500 excluding a camera.
Produce and sell more, and you have economies of scale: The price comes down, and you capture the market. Conversely, if you had entered a market governed by predictable rules, such as those for remote controlled RC aircraft as applied to drones, and the government pulls that rug from under you, your customers won’t know whether they may use your great product for their intended purposes; your sales and volume drop and your manufacturer’s price needs to increase. Your competitors can fund more R&D while you fall behind.
I believe the delay in clarifying which rules apply is costing American jobs. On the one hand, the FAA had rules for small unmanned RC aircraft which on their face would apply to many civilian drones. On the other, it refuses to apply them to drones of same or similar dimensions and capabilities, even going as far as fining alleged violators $10,000 per violation while promising to issue Congress-mandated regulations by 2015.
Similarly-situated nations with dense air traffic and highly populated areas manage to update their laws and regulations. They create user experiences that open the path to new applications, uses, engineering and production, gaining significant advantages over the United States beyond those of economies of scale.