Academics who use drones for their research are pushing back on what they call overly restrictive federal regulations.
Two associations that together represent more than 200 American universities are complaining that the Federal Aviation Administration's confusing policies on commercial drones are harmful to academic research.
The associations made the complaint in a memo they submitted to the White House's Office of Management and Budget earlier this month, in which they argued that universities need access to drones for a wide variety of academic research. Universities have used drones for gathering data from storms, inspecting crops, mapping terrain, and recording sports practices.
Under current regulations, universities must get the go-ahead from the FAA in order to use drones for research. But the process of securing a permit is long and confusing, the memo says.
In their letter, the associations characterized the permit process as "a series of delays and moving targets." Aggravated by the burdensome regulatory process, some universities have opted to ban research that uses drones altogether, "to the detriment of their scholarly and economic opportunities," the letter states.
Except for a few special cases, only hobbyists and casual operators are currently allowed to fly drones without FAA approval, and that's under a number of conditions. Drones can't weigh more than 55 pounds and have to be flown away from populated areas, within sight of the operator.