April 2016 Newsletter

Regulating the use of Drones

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has stated that special drone regulations are warranted because standard aircraft rules are too complex for inexperienced drone operators to follow and enforcement of aircraft regulations on drones and their operators would be burdensome for both the public and the FAA. In addition, the FAA says, small drones are “relatively easy to control” compared with standard aircraft.

Some pilots don’t agree and believe it is too easy for a novice drone operator to lose control due to their inexperience in the airspace system.  This is not to mention the external factors such as wind gusts, signal interference and hackers.  Additional concerns stem from the lack of an age restriction on drone operators.

“It becomes like a buzz bomb, flying into the wide blue yonder,”

Andy Johnson-Laird, a Portland, Ore.,-based pilot and consultant.

Johnson-Laird called the lack of a training requirement unsafe, unwise, and almost certain to cause drone crashes and injuries.  The amount of damage a drone can inflict on a commercial airliner remains speculative because there’s little or no data on the issue. Some believe that it is theoretically possible that a drone could bring down a commercial aircraft. The dangers increase for small private aircraft such as piston airplanes, gliders, or helicopters.

In December, the FAA began requiring owners of small drones to start registering the devices.  Regulators say registration will make it easier to hold reckless recreational drone operators accountable for their actions. Owners had until Feb. 19, 2016 to register or else face fines up to $27,500. Some experienced remote control (RC) model aircraft operators who are now required to register, strongly oppose the new regulations.  The RC model aircraft operators believe they are being unfairly lumped together with novice drone owners.

Citing news stories of drone operators who have used their devices to help authorities in fires and rescue operations, many in the drone industry believe lawmakers and regulators should balance the actual risk with the actual benefits before imposing restrictive rules. 

An analysis of FAA drone sighting data by the Academy of Model Aeronautics, an 188,000-member hobbyist group, found that only a small fraction of recent incidents were legitimately reported as near misses or near mid-air collisions. In some cases, the academy said, balloons, birds and model rockets were wrongly identified in initial reports as drones.

Industry groups argue the key to improved safety lies in education and they have teamed with the FAA to promote an informational program called, “Know before You Fly” (http://knowbeforeyoufly.org),

Many aviators believe drone marketers and manufacturers encourage people with no experience to buy those drones without any labels or warnings about the potential harm their product can cause to other aircraft.  One of the most common worries among critics, though, is how drone technology has enabled novices with no background in aviation to fly devices that could increase risks to others.

They (drone operators) have no situational awareness or appreciation for safety,”

“They (drone operators) think it is a game. They do not realize it is for real.”

Ella Atkins, a professor of aerospace engineering at the University of Michigan

Updated: In August 2016 the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) enacted commercial drone regulation under FAR Part 107. This in combination with part 101 regulations (hobby) oversee the use of drones within the national airspace system. Those wishing to operate as pilot of a commercial small unmanned aerial system (sUAS), now must undergo training and pass an FAA written test, and must pass a aeronautical review every 24 calendar months.  For more information on the newest sUAS regulation please visit https://www.faa.gov/uas/getting_started