Congress Destroys A Hobby, FAA Gets The Blame
June 26, 2014
By Brian Benchoff
As ordered by the US Congress, the FAA is gearing up to set forth a standard for commercial UAVs, Unmanned Aerial Systems, and commercial drones operating in America’s airspace. While they’ve been dragging their feet, and the laws and rules for these commercial drones probably won’t be ready by 2015, that doesn’t mean the FAA can’t figure out what the rules are for model aircraft in the meantime.
This week, the FAA released its interpretation (PDF) of what model aircraft operators can and can’t do, and the news isn’t good: FPV flights with quadcopters and model airplanes are now effectively banned, an entire industry centered around manufacturing and selling FPV equipment and autopilots will be highly regulated, and a great YouTube channel could soon be breaking the law.
The FAA’s interpretation of what model aircraft can and cannot do, and to a larger extent, what model aircraft are comes from the FAA Modernization And Reform Act Of 2012 (PDF). While this law states the, “…Federal Aviation Administration may not promulgate any rule or regulation regarding a model aircraft…” it defines model aircraft as, “an unmanned aircraft that is capable of sustained flight in the atmosphere; flown within visual line of sight of the person operating the aircraft; and flown for hobby or recreational purposes.” The FAA has concluded that anything not meeting this definition, for example, a remote controlled airplane with an FPV setup, or a camera, video Tx and Rx, and video goggles, is therefore not a model aircraft, and falls under the regulatory authority of the FAA.
In addition, the FAA spent a great deal of verbiage defining what, “hobby or recreational purposes” in regards to model aircraft are. A cited example of a realtor using a model aircraft to take videos of a property they are selling is listed as not a hobby or recreation, as is a farmer using a model aircraft to see if crops need water. Interestingly, receiving money for demonstrating aerobatics with a model aircraft is also not allowed under the proposed FAA guidelines, a rule that when broadly interpreted could mean uploading a video of yourself flying a model plane, uploading that to YouTube, and clicking the ‘monetize’ button could soon be against the law. This means the awesome folks at Flite Test could soon be out of a job.
The AMA, the Academy Of Model Aeronautics, and traditionally the organization that sets the ‘community-based set of safety guidelines’ referred to in every law dealing with model aircraft, are not happy with the FAA’s proposed rules (PDF). However, their objection is a breathless emotional appeal calls the proposed rules a, “a strict regulatory approach to the operation of model aircraft in the hands of our youth and elderly members.” Other than offering comments per the FAA rulemaking process there are, unfortunately, no possible legal objections to the proposed FAA rules, simply because the FAA is doing exactly what congress told them to do.
The FAA is simply interpreting the Modernization And Reform Act Of 2012 as any person would: FPV goggles interfere with the line of sight of an aircraft, thus anyone flying something via FPV goggles falls under the regulatory authority of the FAA. Flying over the horizon is obviously not line of sight, and therefore not a model aircraft. Flying a model aircraft for money is not a hobby or recreation, and if you’re surprised about this, you simply aren’t familiar with FAA rules about money, work, and person-sized aircraft.
While the proposed FAA rules are not yet in effect, and the FAA is seeking public comment on these rules, if passed there will, unfortunately, exactly two ways to fix this. The first is with a change in federal law to redefine what a model aircraft is. Here’s how to find your congresscritter, with the usual rules applying: campaign donations are better than in-person visits which are better than letters which are better than phone calls which are better than emails. They’ll also look up if you have voted in the last few elections.
If passed, the only other way these rules will align with the privileges model aircraft enthusiasts have enjoyed for decades is through a court ruling. The lawsuit objecting to these rules will most likely be filed by the AMA, and if these rules pass, a donation or membership wouldn’t be a bad idea.
Watch the video: The FAA Has Banned First-Person View Model Planes
Invasion: 7,500 drones in U.S. airspace within 5 years, FAA warns
November 7, 2013
By Kellan Howell – The Washington Times
The chief of the Federal Aviation Administration predicted Thursday that U.S. airspace could be crowded with as many as 7,500 commercial drones within the next five years, as he unveiled a long-awaited regulatory blueprint that seeks to protect Americans’ privacy while requiring testing for law enforcement and private companies seeking to operate unmanned aerial vehicles.
FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said his agency would set up six sites across the country to test drone operators, but cautioned that there could be delays for those looking to obtain certificates to operate unmanned aircraft once the regulatory guidelines are in place. He said ensuring safety in increasingly congested skies was his agency’s top priority.
“We must fulfill those obligations in a thoughtful, careful manner that ensures safety and promotes economic growth,” Mr. Huerta said in a speech to aerospace industry executives.
The FAA’s announcement is the latest step in the march toward transitioning drones from the military use in the war on terrorism that made them famous to civilian applications that can range from collecting survey and weather data to assisting rescues and law enforcement operations.
The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems, the leading trade group for the nation’s private-sector drone operators, estimated this year that the commercial drone industry will create more than 100,000 jobs and generate more than $82 billion in economic impact over the next 10 years — if the government moves quickly to establish workable operating regulations and safeguards.
The impending boom has raised concerns among privacy advocates about how and where drones might be used to collect data. The FAA is requiring future test sites to develop privacy plans and make them available to the public. The policy also requires test site operators to disclose how data will be obtained and used.
“Make no mistake about it, privacy is an extremely important issue and it is something that the public has a significant interest and concern over and we need to recognize as an industry that if we are going to take full advantage of the benefits that we are talking about for these technologies we need to be responsive to the public’s concerns about privacy,” Mr. Huerta said.
Christopher Calabrese, American Civil Liberties U nion legislative counsel, told The Washington Times that while the FAA’s requirement for public disclosure of data and retention policies are needed and welcome, the safeguards do not go far enough.
“It’s crucial that as we move forward with drone use, those procedural protections are followed by concrete restrictions on how data from drones can be used and how long it can be stored. Congress must also weigh in on areas outside of the FAA’s authority, such as use by law enforcement and the Department of Homeland Security, which have the ability to use drones for invasive surveillance that must be kept in check,” Mr. Calabrese said.
Legislation has been introduced by Sen. Edward J. Markey, Massachusetts Democrat, and Rep. Ted Poe, Texas Republican, and Rep. Zoe Lofgren, California Democrat. If passed, this legislation would require law enforcement agencies to obtain warrants before using drones to collect surveillance data on U.S. soil. “People are really worried about drone use. You see it in a huge number of state bills and laws, and I think the FAA needs to understand that if they don’t address privacy issues then drones are not going to be a useful technology,” he said. “Privacy can’t be swept under the rug.”
Mr. Huerta told reporters after his address that there was not a fast-track application process for particular agencies — such as law enforcement — looking to apply for certification to operate unmanned aircraft.
“Our current policy provides for any public user that would like to apply for a certificate of operation to operate unmanned aircraft within national airspace, they are free to apply…,” he said. “But I wouldn’t say we have a particular priority one way or the other.”
Mr. Huerta did allude to possible exceptions for law enforcement agencies to use small unmanned aircraft systems but stressed that the FAA was looking into how to streamline the application process in a way that ensures safe integration into the system and said approximately 80 law enforcement agencies already operate unmanned aircraft under special certificates of authorization.
The FAA released an integration road map and comprehensive plan on its website Thursday.
Both documents lay out steps for unmanned aircraft integration by 2015. Setting up test sites for unmanned aircraft is the next step on the path to integration, and bidding from states to host the sites has been spirited.
“By the end of the year, we plan to choose six test sites for civil unmanned aircraft. Congress required us to do so, and we need to make sure we use these sites to obtain the best data that we can,” Mr. Huerta said.
The FAA has received 25 applications for test sights representing 26 states.
The drone industry, which has pushed the Obama administration to speed regulations to clear the way for more commercial uses, called the FAA’s moves “an important step.”
“From advancing scientific research and responding to natural disasters to locating missing persons and helping to fight wildfires, [drones] can save time, save money, and, most importantly, save lives,” said a statement by Michael Toscano, president and CEO of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems.
Mr. Toscano noted that the FAA’s announcements were better late than never as the FAA has missed every deadline laid out for drone integration in the reauthorization act. However, they have had to cope with significant funding cuts from sequestration and government shutdowns. “Every day that we don’t fly in national airspace, we lose between $27 to $30 million of economic revenue,” he said.