The rumors evoke powerful images. Shadowy figures moving about in darkened alleys . . . is someone there or is it your imagination? Suddenly, like Orson Wells in the Third Man, a light briefly shines out and the figure is revealed!
According to a recent story in the Wall Street Journal, many who hang out on drone related message boards and forums believe the shadowy figures are the big military drone companies, and they are skulking about in the alleyways of the FAA trying to sabotage small UAS manufacturers. Supporters of the conspiracy theory point to the slow pace of FAA action on small UAS rules, and feel that the big companies are forcing the FAA to delay in order to keep their market position.
Sure, we all love a good conspiracy theory, but one need look no farther than the recent Inspector General’s Report to find more mundane and reasonable explanations for the way the UAS rules have rolled out: a lack of funds, organizational barriers, difficulty adapting to radical new technologies, and bureaucratic inertia.
In addition, the logic underlying the theory just doesn’t hold up. As someone once said about a different conspiracy, you have to “follow the money.” Does Porshe worry about its Boxster sales whenever Caterpillar sells a 300 ton earth mover? Do people at Boeing wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat because every Piper Arrow sold means there is one less Dreamliner customer? Obviously not, and the same applies to the two drone markets.
The operational capabilities of a UAS define the market for its sales and its customer base. The big drone manufacturers sell highly capable, complicated systems with extreme operating altitude, range, and payload capacity. A real estate agent does not want to fly his UAS five hundred miles to film property at 25,000 feet. When an oil company wants to survey thousands of miles of pipeline in the arctic, they aren’t going to buy small quadcopters.
There is a lot of understandable frustration in the small UAS community. However, we should not lose sight of the fact that everyone wants the national airspace to be open to all users. That goal is not furthered by unwarranted finger pointing and suspicion at a time when all stake holders should be working together to further that goal.
(Originally posted July 2, 2014)