[Hi, Freedom to Tinker readers. I’m back at Princeton, having completed my tour of duty as Deputy U.S. CTO, so I can resume writing here. I’ll start with some posts on specific topics, like the one below. As time goes on, I’ll have a lot more to say about what I learned. –Ed Felten]
Politicians often talk about regulation as hindering business and economic development. Witness President Trump’s executive order that tries to reduce the number of Federal regulations. Sometimes regulation inhibits innovation and limits freedom of action. But often regulation acts to open up new opportunities.
A good example is the FAA’s “Part 107” rule that was announced last summer. This rule established requirements for commercial flights of drones up to 55 pounds. For the first time, commercial flights became possible without requiring special permission from the FAA, as long as certain restrictions were followed: fly below 400 feet; avoid airports and other special facilities; don’t fly at night; don’t fly over people; and maintain visual line of sight to the drone.
Because flying aircraft in the national airspace is forbidden by default, for obvious safety reasons, regulation that permits flight, within limits, has the effect of expanding rather than reducing what companies and individuals can do. Part 107 made more types of drone flights legal. This has already been an important enabler of beneficial innovation and use of drones.
But the FAA’s work is not done. The agency had been planning a series of follow-on rules designed to relax the boundaries of Part 107, to allow flight over people, beyond visual line of sight, and so on, as it became clear how to do so safely.
Will the new executive order make this more difficult? It’s hard to tell, because many aspects of the order are unclear or await further clarification from the Office of Management and Budget. But a policy that creates new barriers to the FAA responsibly loosening the restrictions on drone flights will not increase freedom and will not benefit the American people.
I hope the interpretation and implementation of the new executive order accounts for the full range of regulatory actions. A policy that starts out assuming that regulation limits action too much, and thereby inhibits innovation and economic growth, may or may not be correct. But a policy that tries to prevent all action by regulatory agencies cannot be the right approach for the American people, especially if the goal is to reduce the burden imposed by regulation.