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Science Panel Says FAA "Too Strict" on Drones: A Response

Everyone who watches the drone industry these days has been sharing the report recently shared by the the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine, which stated their findings and beliefs that the Federal Aviation Administration has become far too tough on drone laws. The study conducted by the NASEM was ordered last year by Congress to gauge the weighing drone laws, their applicability, and dig deeper into the usefulness of drones.

Essentially the report states that the FAA’s regulations regarding drones has gone far beyond the normal tolerances placed on even Part 121 Air Carriers. Part 121 governs the rules and regulations for our airlines (American, Delta, United, Southwest, etc.). Its no surprise to many in the UAS (Unmanned Aerial Systems) industry the panel would come out with these findings. Many of the operators who have been flying over the last few years, and some even longer, could have told us the FAA was treating the new and emerging field unfairly a year ago.

Before continuing, if you haven’t read the original story, check out this link from The National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine, as well as the news report from ABC.



So now that a well respected panel such as the NASEM has come forward with these findings, what do we do with them? There are a number of troubling items in the UAS industry right now. The largest being the unfairness of burdensome regulations which target commercial operations. Commercial operations are any operations which do not take place for the sole enjoyment of the operator. Any time the operator is compensated, or receives some time of business related exchange (portfolio gain, demoing new equipment for a potential client, etc.) they’re flight falls under Part 107. Part 107 and Part 101 are the areas of our Federal Code which govern UAS operations in the United States.

For a Part 107 operator, who has passed the FAA’s Airmen Knowledge Test, received their certificate in the mail, and is now a commercial drone operator, they must apply for waivers, and authorizations to fly inside airspace, at night, beyond line of sight, over people, and more. These waivers and authorizations are currently taking months in most cases to even get a “no go” response back from the FAA; effectively stifling the business of operators nationwide. For a Part 101 hobbyist, who wants to fly within half a mile of the Las Vegas McCarran International Airport, all they need to do is simply call the tower, and inform them of their flight. Someone who holds now certificate, or professional license, is probably not insured, and may have no experience operating the drone they got for Christmas or a birthday, can fly as high, and as far, or close, to major airports with no rules or regulations.

Now Part 101 does state that operators should be following the rules of some community based organization such as the AMA, who has a set of rules for their operators. But, in reality the operator only needs to call the tower to tell them they are going to fly, and needs no permission to do so. We bring up McCarran Intl because in February of this year a drone and a Fonrtier Airlines Airbus A320 had a close class while the A320 was on final for landing at McCarran International. Just days after the incident, and near miss, the commercial drone community came forward and begged the FAA to take action against the operator. An operator who was more than likely nothing more than a hobbyist flying for their own enjoyment, and it appears this operator didn’t even inform the airport of their flight.

Hobbyist drones, and model aircraft have been around for years. Its only been in the last 5-6 years that drones have surged into the market. With the ease of access now, and the overall affordability, everyone from Little Johnny, to the United States Army, can now have their very own drone. The problem is that the rules are overly strict on the wrong group. Very little of the time will we find that commercial operators are working under Part 107 and breaking the regulations. However, its easier to find a hobbyist breaking the rules on YouTube twice a day.

So when the FAA does finally take the advice of The National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine, we’re hoping they will relax regulation for commercial uses which have already proven to be beneficial in nature, and tighten down on the reckless operations of those like the “Las Vegas Drone Pilot”. Commercial operations have only been around for just under two years when it comes to Part 107. Already the FAA, as well as local and state bodies, have affirmed their usefulness. Officials stated how helpful drones were after Hurricane Harvey in Houston. Even in every day, non-emergency practices, drones are creating safer and more efficient work sites. Take for instance Duke Energy, and Verizon Wireless, who have now both employed the use of drones in-house, and on contract. Whenever tower climbers, linemen, and surveyors don’t have to enter into high risk areas, climb towers, or touch the lines, we should make that happen. If we can create safeties and decrease the overall risk associated with a job, why shouldn’t we do it?

Drones have proven themselves worthy of existing when it comes to commercial operations. Even for purposes that are for the sole enjoyment of the operator, drones are still something worth having. But perhaps its time to rethink the idea of drones as simple toys. After all we’ve all seen what a few small birds can do to the engine of an airliner. Anyone who has seen the movie “Sully”, or knows anything about the “Miracle on the Hudson” knows something as small as a bird can bring a flight down.

Here’s an idea. On the manned aviation side of things, there are commercial and non-commercial certified pilots. Those who are not commercially certified cannot perform certain functions. Yet, they are still required to be checked by an FAA Examiner, and receive a certificate to operate the aircraft. Essentially we have commercial pilots, and hobbyist pilots in manned aviation. All of whom must be certified. If the FAA really wants to treat the drone industry like they treat the manned aviation industry, then why the break from tradition? Hobbyist drone operators should be certified in some way as well. The one thing no one seems to want to talk about is the danger of anyone being able to waltz into their local Best Buy, and purchase a drone. No license, no certificate, no training, no insurance, and no way of knowing what they’ll be using it for at the end of the day.

After the release of this Congressionally order study, we hope to see the needed changes in the UAS industry. We are still emerging in the industry, but the FAA has to come to table and realize some of the other key issues which plague the industry. They are already making strides in relaxing airspace constraints for commercial operations with their slow release of the LAANC system. FAA officials and their integration teams are also working meticulously to make the skies friendly for airlines, small planes, and drones; a task which is by no means a simple one. With over 90,000 estimated UAS certificates having now been issued, this will take some time.

What are your thoughts on the article and findings from the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine? Leave us a comment, and don’t forget to share this article with friends.

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