Stuart O & # 39; Sullivan
More than 34,000 people have overwhelmed the Federal Aviation Administration with comments on a proposed regulation that almost every drone in the sky has to transmit its location over the Internet at all times. The comments are mostly negative, and thousands of hobbyists warn that the rules would add enormous new costs to those who simply want to continue flying model planes, self-made drones, or other privately owned devices.
"These regulations could kill a hobby that I love," Virginian Irby Allen Jr. wrote in a comment last week. "RC Aviation brought my family together, and if these regulations are passed, we cannot fly or afford our hobby."
The new regulations would not immediately kill the hobby of flying remote-controlled airplanes, but it could do a lot of damage. Owners of existing drones and model aircraft would be subject to new restrictions on when and where they could be used. The regulations could effectively destroy the market for kit planes and bespoke drones by placing large financial and bureaucratic burdens on the shoulders of consumers.
"I think it will be harmful to the community and harmful to the growth of the UAS industry," said Greg Reverdiau, co-founder of the Pilot Institute, in a telephone interview on Friday. He wrote a point-by-point criticism of the FAA proposal, which is widespread among aviation hobbyists.
An internet connection for every plane
The new rules are largely aimed at addressing law enforcement security concerns. They fear that drones that fly too close to an airport could disrupt operations or even cause a crash. They are also concerned that terrorists are using drones to deliver payloads to densely populated areas.
To address these concerns, the new FAA rule would require all new drones weighing more than £ 0.55 to connect to one of several location tracking databases (still to be developed by private providers) and real-time updates of their location over the Internet provide . This would allow the FAA or law enforcement to see at a glance which registered drones are in a particular area.
Critics say, however, that the rules impose massive costs on thousands of law-abiding Americans who have been flying silent model airplanes, quad copters, and other small unmanned aerial vehicles for years – and in many cases decades.
The rules require that the drone itself has an internet connection. As a result, many existing drones are immediately superfluous and hobbyists have to update or discard them. In addition, owning a drone becomes significantly more expensive because you have to sign up for a data plan.
In many cases, it may not even be possible to upgrade the existing aircraft to the new standard. The FAA rule states that a compatible drone must have a serial number that has been assigned by the device manufacturer in accordance with the new rules. However, many RC airplanes are built by small companies that never intended to enter the commercial drone business. You may not have the technical resources to comply with the new standards or the legal resources to obtain FAA approval.
Critics say this approach is exaggerated. DJI, the leading drone manufacturer, rejects the FAA proposal. The company points out that it has already implemented drone identification technology for its own drones, based on sending radio signals from the drone. Law enforcement agencies can purchase hardware that receives these shows and shows which DJI drones are nearby.
DJI argues that this approach is simpler, cheaper, and less intrusive than a constantly active internet connection. According to DJI – and other opponents of the FAA approach – it would be better for the FAA to commission the development of an industry-standard version of the DJI technology than to force every drone to be connected to the Internet.
The FAA assumes that homemade aircraft will "leak".
There is a large community of people who build aircraft out of kits or use parts bought in hobby shops or online. The new rules would impose enormous new burdens on these hobbyists. With one exception, which I will discuss shortly, these hobbyists would also have to meet the remote ID requirements, which means that they would have to be equipped with an integrated mobile radio chip and a significant amount of computing power.
The next step would be for a hobbyist to submit documents to the FAA explaining how his drone works and demonstrating that it meets all the requirements of the new regulations. You may need to hire a lawyer before you can fly a model airplane you designed.
This approach seems terribly suitable for do-it-yourself builders. California drone hobbyist Anatoly Vizitiu recently commented on the problem in a comment to the FAA:
We don't buy commercially manufactured drones, we build our own drones, we run and crush them, then we build them up again. (A) Hobby drone is not an airplane, but a collection of parts that work together. After crashing, these surviving parts are on several other models. (A) average hobbyist does not own a model, but dozens and a few hundred that are always modified and experimented.
This do-it-yourself approach is in direct contradiction to the FAA's vision that each drone has a single manufacturer that takes care of legal compliance.
The FAA apparently expects a backlash and offers a workaround for people with existing or custom-built aircraft: special FAA areas where people could fly non-compliant aircraft. These would be operated by "community-based organizations" – most likely existing model aircraft clubs that already operate fields for hobbyists to fly their aircraft. These clubs would have a one-year window to apply to the FAA to operate one of these websites. By the end of the year, the FAA would publish a list of approved locations, and anyone wishing to fly a non-compliant aircraft would have to travel to one of the locations.
However, the FAA makes it clear that it sees this regulation as a temporary means:
At the end of this 12 month period, no new applications would be accepted for areas of identification recognized by the FAA. After this date, the number of identification areas recognized by the FAA could only remain the same or decrease. Over time, the FAA assumes that most UAS will reach or expire without remote identification. As these numbers dwindle and compliance with remote identification requirements becomes cheaper and easier, the number of UAS that only need to be operated in FAA-recognized identification areas would likely decrease significantly.
Significantly, the FAA does not seem to imagine that after the rules come into force, people will continue to design and build their own aircraft – even if they are only flown to specific locations specified by the FAA. If the FAA is wrong about this and the number of non-compliant aircraft increases over time, the FAA will not provide a mechanism for adding new airfields. The drone hobby community would stick to the airfields that existed when these rules came into force – no matter how many people wanted to use them. Nobody will be able to fly home-made airplanes in their backyards or near empty fields.
And this exception does not apply to people who want to use tailor-made drones for practical applications, for example on farms or on construction sites. Large drone manufacturers would likely build drones over time that would meet most requirements. However, individuals and small businesses experimenting with homebrew technology are an important source of innovation – and the FAA seems determined to stamp this kind of innovation out.
Comments are open until Monday
The debate is not over yet. The FAA published its revised rules a few weeks ago, giving the public time to comment until Monday, March 2nd. Once the deadline has passed, FAA staff should read all comments – tens of thousands of them – and take them into account if this is a final rule.
The overwhelming public opposition to the current proposal could lead the FAA to rethink its approach, but this is not guaranteed. Once the FAA has taken all public comments into account, it will likely publish a final rule along with written answers to questions raised by commentators.
Commenting is easy. If you're a drone hobbyist, a model airplane enthusiast, or anyone else affected by the rules, you can click here and then click the "comment now" button. Comments can range from a few sentences to many pages. Comments are open until 11:59 p.m. on Monday.
Correction: I deleted a set of data plans that cost $ 50 as it may be possible to find much cheaper plans.