The Federal Aviation Administration failed to meet Wednesday's deadline for creating national drone regulations.
"Our main, overriding goal is safety," an FAA spokesperson told NBC News, noting that final rules for drone flight should be in place "late next spring."
Back in 2012, Congress told the FAA to find a way to integrate unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), also known as drones, into U.S. airspace. Right now, commercial drone operators work in a regulatory gray zone, many hoping to get something called a "Section 333 exemption" that lets them fly before the official rules have been worked out. So far, 1,800 of those exemptions have been handed out, according to the FAA.
On Wednesday, as the Congressional deadline hit, a group of 29 organizations — including the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, and the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International — sent a letter to the FAA urging the agency to create clear and comprehensive rules.
In the letter, the coalition claimed that with the proper guidelines, the drone industry could create 100,000 jobs and $82 billion in economic activity within a decade.
"With the right regulatory environment, there is no question these numbers could go higher," the letter said. "But with each passing day that commercial integration is delayed, the United States continues to fall behind."
Preliminary rules for small commercial drones were proposed by the FAA in February of this year but have not been finalized. The agency is currently reviewing the approximately 4,500 public comments received over the regulations.
"We have been consistent in saying that we're going to move as quickly as possible," the FAA spokesperson said, "but the integration of unmanned aircraft into the nation's airspace is going to have to proceed on an incremental basis."