The world’s largest organization representing the interests of the unmanned sector – the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International – is taking a strong stand against US state or local governments trying to layer their own legislation on top of the FAA’s federal rules.

Part of AUVSI’s mandate is to lobby and advocate on behalf of the best interests of the industry. And today, in an advocacy post, the AUVS blog takes a strong stand against the issue of “avigation easements,” whereby state or local governments try to impose their own rules over portions of the national airspace system. The title of the blog? “For the drone industry to take off, we must defeat ‘avigation easement’ proposals.”

Let’s see why the organization is concerned.

‘Avigation easements’

This is a relatively new term to us, though we had written about it once here. But the concept is pretty straightforward: Some states are looking at proposals to designate certain corridors in low-altitude airspace as drone corridors. Drone operators could be charged a toll to use these proposed highways in the sky. These corridors are referred to as “avigation easements.”

AUVSI to Host Webinar on the Advancing Role of Unmanned Systems – Defense. Protection. Security.
AUVSI represents a ton of members in the drone industry….

The AUVSI says the states have no business carving up the airspace. What’s more, says AUVSI, is that imposing tolls on an industry that’s really just developing could stifle growth or even flat-out kill some new operators. The organization makes its viewpoint crystal-clear:

…Since its inception, aviation toll lane proposals have been universally opposed by the UAS and AAM industries. The drone toll model is perhaps a money-maker for some companies that want to get in on the front-end of airspace management and charge taxes or fees for access, however, it is a poison pill for the nascent commercial UAS industry, and the yet-to-be realized AAM marketplace. Taxing industry for access to low-altitude airspace before the industry has yet to engage in widespread commercial operations, and for most companies, turn a profit, would kill the industry and its innovative approach to revolutionizing business.

Who owns the skies?

From the AUVSI perspective, there’s no question about that. The FAA holds authority to regulate airspace, period. It’s a position the association has long held.

FAA issues new rules for hobbyist drone pilots
The FAA is the federal regulator of the National Airspace System

But now, the AUVSI says proposals in several states – proposals in Texas, Louisiana, West Virginia, and Mississippi – threaten to layer their own rules, potentially including avigation easements, on top of the existing FAA structure.

The AUVSI position

Well, it’s pretty simple. Let the FAA continue to make the rules. And don’t impose tolls on drones. To do so could jeopardize an industry that will become huge, it says:

AUVSI has a long record of challenging efforts to weaken federal authority of the airspace, including opposition to federal and state attempts to give states and/or local government the ability to regulate drones. That is a nonstarter for the drone industry and the emerging Advanced Air Mobility (AAM)/Urban Air Mobility (UAM) industry. A patchwork of 50 states with 50 different sets of rules would be a disaster for industry, weakening strong federal safety standards and imposing tremendous costs on consumers and drone operators.

DroneDJ’s take

The prospect of that patchwork is a nightmare. And we know, having worked for some drone startups, that budgets can be incredibly tight. If there’s a need for some drone corridors over urban areas based on safety considerations, by all means, come to a consensus agreement with the industry.

But don’t start carving up the skies – and don’t set up toll booths in the sky.

You can find the full AUVSI blog entry here.

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