Saturday, February 21, 2015

Is the FAA on a Collision Course With America’s Drone Operators?

Los Angeles, CA—I just spent a long time on the telephone with an FAA Aviation Safety Inspector.  I’m not going to name him.  He was knowledgeable and helpful under the circumstances. 
My question involved the use of a somewhat small multi-rotor drone for photography and videography.   Specifically, I wanted an exemption certificate for the use of a drone to obtain aerial images of accident, crime scenes, aerial damage surveys of structures for insurance adjusting and electronic newsgathering (ENG).
Just last Sunday the FAA issued a draft copy of their intended drone regulations.  After a public comment period as much as three years will pass before a final regulation is published. 
The rub here is that the drone technology is changing at lighting speed and whatever they promulgate will already be outdated and stale by the time any rule is adopted.
The inspector I spoke with was an obviously bright fellow.   He among other things investigates allegations of unauthorized commercial use of or the careless or reckless operation of drones.
He also explained to me just how to apply for a drone exemption certificate for my commercial needs.  He then cited verbatim the existing FAA drone safety guidelines. 
The guidelines themselves are somewhat problematic.  They are incredibly vague and lack adequate descriptions of prohibited activity.  However the current FAA prohibition against commercial use of drones is utterly unambiguous.   
Because of incredibly ignorant news media stories the public seems to think these little camera drones are somehow illegal.  Every time people notice a drone up in the air they call 911.  Police have to respond and drone enforcement is not currently taught in police academies.  
The cops and prosecutors are confused along with those people that make the various local and state laws.
Lets start with the local lawmakers.  For the most part they are ignorant of the fact that the nation’s airspace is not theirs to regulate!  Federal law preempts them.
Okay, you may as why can’t some state like Arizona pass a law governing drones in our airspace?  It’s really quite simple.  If state and local lawmakers had that power there would be total chaos in the skies!
For example they would try and make laws that would allow them to arrest pilots for making too much noise near airports.   At one time the states that precluded alcohol sales or at least barring sales on Sundays actually tried to enforce their laws against the airlines.
How could pilots and navigators possibly keep up with the laws of every state, city or hamlet they fly over? 
Can you imagine cops serving search warrants on airlines to obtain the names of flight crews that may have violated those local regulations?  Imagine seeing your uniformed pilots and flight attendants in handcuffs at morning criminal court calls after spending the night in jail! 
The FAA is the sole authority for our airspace.  Local governments can only control where airports are built or their own governmental use of aircraft.
Our local police, media and lawmakers simply don’t know or understand aviation laws.  They have enough responsibility without trying to control or determine the flight altitude of some 12 year-old kid’s camera drone.
Okay let’s begin with the Federal guidelines overregulation of Unmanned Vehicle Vehicles (UAV) or what we call, drones. 
The FAA lumped together all UAVs under 55 pounds.  That includes model rockets, fixed wing planes, helicopters and of course the new and suddenly wildly popular multi-rotor camera drones.
Multi-rotor drones are radically different than the rest.  They're somewhat slow moving and are not too difficult to operate.  Considering there are well over a million of them in civilian hands one undeniable fact is apparent.  There has never been a multi-rotor drone accident that has taken a life, caused a serious injury or any significant property damage. 
When you compare that with the 7000 helicopters in use world wide use there is no similarity.  Over the years, I’ve sadly I’ve lost friends that were in epic helicopter crashes.  The last of which was the collision of two TV news-choppers over Phoenix, AZ three years ago that killed four friends. 
All FAA existing regulations for conventional manned aircraft were actually written in blood!  Every rule has a historical tragic accident behind it!   The FAA exists for airspace safety and for the most part they’ve done a pretty good job. 
Today the USA and our way of life have changed because of the political Left Wing’s control over the nation. The Left loves big government and they never met a commerce obstructing law they didn’t just love.
Those on the Left believe there must be some sort of license issued before you can clip your own toenails!
Suddenly with the emerging drone technology the FAA has gone to the prior restraint mode rather than regulating based on actual accidents.
I call this the Chicken Little mode where regulations are made to preclude even the most remote possibility of mishaps. 
Nothing is a better example overregulation than the FAA’s total ban on using a drone for compensation.  Wow, halting commerce?  How un-American is that? 
If there was a reasonable safety issue demonstrated by a death, serious injury or significant property damage involving the multi-rotor drones I could understand, but there’s not! 
I must cite our First Amendment right to create, gather news, publish and broadcast.   Here the prior restraint activities of the FAA are nothing short of tyrannical! 
The new proposed rules of the FAA over commercial UAS seem on their face seem somewhat workable.  Anything is better than a total prohibition.
I personally intend to be licensed once the new regulations are in place.  In the meantime I’m in the process of applying for an FAA drone use exemption certificate.
My unanswered questions still remain.  Just what is careless or reckless aircraft regulation? Some would consider simply flying any drone reckless.  Opinions here are both wide and varied even among drone users! 
How near is too near to be to an occupied sports stadium? Is flying over the heads of people the same as simply being able to view people from above?  People including my fellow drone pilots all have different ideas and answers. 
Have we somehow failed to notice that conventional aircraft fly over our homes and heads everyday?
The FAA inspector I spoke with could not answer those important questions.  He simply told me that if there’s a complaint he’d report the known facts or allegations to them and the FAA would make a final determination on whether anything deserved sanctions. 
To me this is FAA vs. Drone situation merely setting up a recipe for unnecessary conflict and endless litigation.
My goal is to see the stellar safety record of the multi-rotor devices continue through the responsible use of this exciting and cutting edge technology.
In the long run drones will save lives, such as the 100 or so antenna tower inspectors that fall to their deaths ever year.  
There will be fewer manned helicopters crashing because of the tiny by comparison drones are being used instead.
The world’s food and fuel supply will be better- managed and protected by inexpensive UAV operators. 
Drone delivery of emergency medicines, defibrillation devices will also be saving lives along with drone use in search and rescue missions.
Drones are here to stay and Americans need their benefit.


Unknown said...

I agree with you. The FAA's approach has already set us back from other modern nations in the drone industry. Folks don't yet understand the benefits of drones and the media considers it profitable to project drones in a bad light. This isn't nearly as bad as how American's first reacted to automobiles though.

Jason Schiffner said...

I agree with you. The FAA's approach has already set us back from other modern nations in the drone industry. Folks don't yet understand the benefits of drones and the media considers it profitable to project drones in a bad light. This isn't nearly as bad as how American's first reacted to automobiles though.