Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

Definitional Argument: Nevada's Commercial UAV Debate and the Case of Threatened Prosperity

Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

Definitional Argument: Nevada's Commercial UAV Debate and the Case of Threatened Prosperity

Article excerpt


Definitional argument; threatened prosperity; drones; regulation; symbolic formula


In December 2013, Nevada, in general, and the Las Vegas area, in particular, were one of the six sites granted a Certificate of Authorization (COA) from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to enter the market for commercial Unmanned [sic] Aerial Vehicle (UAV) testing, distribution, and use beginning in 2015. Even before this occurred, many types of UAVs, commonly referred to in public discourse as drones, had already taken to the skies in Las Vegas. Drones were initially advertised to the financial elite. For the modest sum of $20,000, patrons of Marquee Nightclub at the Cosmopolitan could receive bottle service performed by drone (Stampler 2014). Integrating a variety of UAV technologies into commercial airspace, however, was not a universally popular idea. Although there was no established movement opposed to commercial drone development in Nevada, public opinion data suggested there was fertile ground for such a movement.

Most citizens nationally opposed the FAA's decision to test commercial UAV markets. According to Pew Research, 63% of adult U.S. citizens said a policy legalizing the use of commercial drones in U.S. airspace "would be a change for the worse; only 22% thought it would be for the better" (Feltman 2014). In some cities, pushback against commercialization policies resulted in collective citizen action. These efforts enjoyed considerable success in resisting policies expanding airspace for UAV use by private companies. For example, angry protests in Seattle "tabled any drone ambitions" the city may have had, even after several UAVs were purchased with federal grants (Sorcher 2013). In addition, the emergence of "genuine" movements in Virginia and Florida pressured the states to pass "historic bills" prohibiting domestic UAVs; a sign that "a wider dialogue" was developing over the public risks associated with commercializing drones (Crump and Stanley 2013). In response to this dialogue, the FAA was tasked with producing a set of comprehensive federal regulations on domestic UAV development and use.

In the FAA Modernization Act of 2012, Congress instructed FAA to establish guidelines for drone use that would result in a set of comprehensive federal regulations (DiSilvio 2016). FAA introduced a number of regulatory measures that would build toward a comprehensive national policy; most significant, though, was FAA's move in late 2013 to establish six "sand boxes" that would inform the agency and the public on the impact of commercial UAV usage and therefore heavily influence federal regulations (Suarez 2013). The six test sites allowed states to practice "various drone privacy approaches" before regulations were adopted at the federal level (Suarez 2013). FAA's goal in establishing six test sites was to assess commercial UAV development so that drones could be safely integrated into commercial airspace. Nevada was one such test site. In Nevada, unlike other states, there was not a consensus that a policy commercializing UAVs was dangerous. As I will demonstrate later, one explanation for this was the unique set of economic conditions Nevada faced. These economic conditions contributed to a worldview favoring commercial UAV development and testing. While this worldview was not the only one present in Nevada, it was the more powerful one that won out.

In the battle over commercial UAV testing in Nevada, there was an issue of two competing worldviews. The first worldview was that a policy commercializing UAVs posed serious safety and privacy risks for citizens. Anti-drone activists argued that regulating UAVs was necessary to ensure citizens were guaranteed safety and privacy. These arguments often conflated tiny remote aircrafts with the "weaponized, ghostlike military spy aircraft that lurked over Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, killing ... civilians and children" (Michel 2014). …

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