Drones

FAA Stops Free Life-Saving Rescue Missions, Group Fights Back

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Don McCullough CC BY

The Texas EquuSearch Mounted Search and Recovery Team (TXEQ) saves lives. These volunteers conduct free search-and-rescue missions with remote-controlled airplanes. They've used these drones to find more than 300 missing people across the U.S. and seven other countries. Too bad, says the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA): The organization is violating federal drone policy.

In February the FAA sent TXEQ an email warning the group that its operations were illegal and should "stop immediately." According to The Wall Street Journal, the organization obeyed the order but isn't going down without a fight. In March TXEQ's lawyer, Brendan Schulman (who recently won an unrelated high-profile case that may loosen the FAA's grip on drones), responded to the government, saying its "order is groundless." He went on:

The civilian use of a model aircraft for purposes of a volunteer search-and-rescue effort is lawful and violates no existing aviation regulations. The FAA announced a purported ban on "business" use of model aircraft…in 2007, but that ban is not binding on the public because it is only a policy, not a regulation. Moreover, the use of model aircraft by Texas EquuSearch for volunteer humanitarian purposes falls outside of that ban.

He also noted that the FAA has verbally harassed TXEQ on at least six occasions over a span of seven years while its volunteers were working on missions. Schulman requested that the FAA reverse its decision within 30 days or face legal action. He told the Journal that the group may sue in federal court. With one week remaining, the FAA has yet to make a move.

The agency, which is under pressure from Congress to establish a coherent body of regulations for drones by the end of 2015, did initially recommend that TXEQ get emergency certificates of authority. In his reply, Schulman noted that such certificates are irrelevent, because the administration only grants them to other government bodies or their contractors.

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  1. Definate kudos on the alt-text.

    1. Yes. It’s classic Zenon.

      1. As opposed to New Zenon, which consumers rejected so vehemently they had to bring the old formula back.

        1. But the “old” formula they brought back was made with corn syrup instead of sugar. Zenon just admitted to being SugarFree! You all saw it!

          1. If Zenon admitted to being Sugar Free does that mean that Epi is Zenon Zero?

            1. Je suis Napoleon!

  2. RULES MUST BE FOLLOWED, WHATEVER THE COST.

    1. Did they ask permission? Were they obeying orders? No? Well then they’re not free.

    2. If the information in the article is accurate, it’s not even an official rule, just a “policy”.

      Evidently the government is officially taking the position that anything it doesn’t expressly permit is illegal.

      1. Once upon a time, an acceptable answer to “Who said you could do that?” was “It’s a free country. No one said I can’t, so fuck off.”

        No more.

        1. I’ve been of the opinion for a few years now that the clearest signal that the republic is dying is the fact that no one invokes “It’s a free country” anymore unless they’re being ironic.

          1. I don’t think I’ve heard that invoked with any passion since the 80s.

          2. More tellingly, when I use it non-ironically, the person I say it to often gets nervous.

          3. I haven’t heard anyone use that term for a long, long time.

            1. It’s a free country, because I say it is.

            2. Quite frankly, I have never heard anyone use that.term who.was not trying to.excuse.some dickish behavior, or essentially daring someone to make them stop.through.violence.

              1. You should hang out with me more often then…

                1. I don’t associate with Massholes.

          4. I heard about a guy who said that just yesterday. He was parked in the middle of the road in front of my house, leaning on his horn, trying to get the attention of the woman across the street (who wasn’t even home). After several minutes of this lazy moron honking away, my wife went out and asked him to knock it off. “It’s a free country!” he declared, and then went right back to blasting his horn.

            1. What’s that KITH skit where McKinney stands outside somebody’s house like he’s meeting them to walk to work (he’s wearing construction gear) and just says the guy’s name over and over and over for a few minutes but they never come out? Because that’s what your story sounds like.

              1. The guy was clearly retarded, which I find funny, but this was more like an SNL skit: it was supposed to be funny but no one laughed.

                1. If he was retarded that certainly sounds like an SNL skit.

                2. SNL skits are supposed to be funny? Not since the 70’s.

                  1. SNL skits are supposed to be funny? Not since the 70’s.

                    Come on! They were funny into the early 80s as well!

                    1. They peaked with “Let’s Kill Gary For Christmas”.

                    2. Are we forgetting Eddie Murphy’s Mr. Landlord bits?

                      What about Chris Farley’s Chippendale dance duet with Patrick Swayze?

                      Church Lady?

                    3. I remember well the day I heard Buckwheat had been shot.

              2. What’s that KITH skit where McKinney stands outside somebody’s house like he’s meeting them to walk to work (he’s wearing construction gear) and just says the guy’s name over and over and over for a few minutes but they never come out? Because that’s what your story sounds like.

                “Lopez! You in there Lopez?”

                http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qVzWOIYt4mQ

            2. “Police, what is your emergency?”
              “There’s a car out front and the driver is blowing his horn, he won’t stop. He’s being a jerk,”
              “That’s not an emergency.”
              “He’s black.”
              “We’re on our way.”

          5. Winter is coming.

        2. The next step should be to have these FAA “officials” arrested for abuse of authority and abuse of process. If the Sheriff is involved in these rescue operations, he should be putting these clowns behind bars.

      2. VAGUE PRONOUNCEMENTS WITHOUT DIRECT LEGAL OR REGULATORY SUPPORT MUST BE OBEYED LIKE THE WORD OF GOD, WHATEVER THE COST IN LIVES, MONEY, OR RESOURCES.

  3. coherent body of regulations

    *snort*

  4. When I am God-Emperor, anyone caught using “the rules” to deny lifesaving technology will be expelled from public service, declared outlaw, and forced to run a gauntlet of angry people who feel that ruling killed their friend or relative. We’ll see how fast the risk-aversion calculus of the average bureaucrat adjusts.

    1. When? Let’s see you survive the spice trance before we anoint you.

  5. Schulman requested that the FAA reverse its decision within 30 days or face legal action.

    Yeah, I’m not sure the threat here for the FAA. Taxpayers foot the bill for their attorneys.

  6. If it saves just the life of one bureaucrat it will have been an incredible waste.

    1. If it saves just the life job of one bureaucrat it will have been an incredible waste.

      1. As long as the jobs are and remain unfilled, I can accept that as a compromise.

  7. Maybe they’re taking their cues from the FDA?

    I mean, if you can deny life-saving drugs due to “the RULEZ”, why not SAR technology?

  8. The FAA definitely believes that anything done above the surface.of the earth within the.borders.of.the.United States is illegal unless done with its specific permission. Doing anything in the.air is a privilege, not a right, you know.

  9. Obviously it’s beyond the FAA to just give them a max ceiling, tell them to stay out of TCAs, and be done with it.

    Now they’re just being dicks.

  10. Nothing pisses a federal agency off more than when their importance is questioned. It makes them look in the mirror and wonder what they are doing wrong that people don’t see what they see.

  11. When government officials are no longer afraid to confront Texans in rural areas without fear of disappearing, I’m afraid we’ve lost the republic.

    1. “I hear your family likes to go camping. Be a shame if something were to happen and we couldn’t find ’em…”

  12. Bureaucracies cannot give fact specific rulings. Bureaucracies exist on hard rules. Every bureaucracy will therefore at some point apply a rule in a harsh, unjust and insane way. You can mitigate that to some degree by passing new rules post facto dealing with each insane application after it arises. But each new rule will create its own set of insanities.

    Bureaucracies, if given enough power will always do something monstrous. This is not to say that there should never be bureaucracies. Some things the government has to do and all governments function via bureaucracies. It is just to point out the limitations of bureaucracies and why they and by implication government, should be used to solve a problem only in circumstances where there is no other option.

    1. FTA:

      In response to a Spokane, Washington journalist’s use of a model aircraft for news gathering, FAA spokesman Les Door said, “we can’t let them [journalists] do it [use model aircraft for news gathering] as long as there are no rules in place.”

      That which is not specifically permitted is prohibited. Literally. There’s simply no words to express the idiocy of these clowns.

      1. Huh. That was supposed to be in response to John’s post below with the link to the Forbes article. Will re-post down there. Fucking squirrelz.

  13. Only tea party racist eliminationist thugs would want non-government organizations saving peoples lives.

  14. If you allow anyone to save peoples’ lives, and they do a good job of it, then that proves that the private sector can do a better job.

    Allow that to happen, and the people might get all uppity and start proving that the private sector can do other things better than government can.

    Best to nip it in the bud.

  15. Air Force says there are no nuke-carrying drones.

    I assume that to mean all drones are carrying nukes.

    1. They don’t carry the nukes. The nukes are built into the airframe!

      1. I think the only non-guided nukes we have are the the ones we drop from planes…

        The fact that dropping the kind of nukes those planes drop result in the death of the planes crew I guess is not very important.

        Cuz you just know not one of those crews are going defy an order to kill themselves.

        1. The fact that dropping the kind of nukes those planes drop result in the death of the planes crew I guess is not very important.

          No, it doesn’t. You have a bad habit of talking about things like this in total confidence when you really have no clue what you’re talking about. You should stop.

          1. Those bombs are really really really small compared to the hydrogen bombs we have now.

            1. Doesn’t matter. There are plenty of ways to avoid the aircrew being caught in a nuclear blast, and modern bombers are much faster and more agile than the older ones.

              1. Forgot to include the second link:

                https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laydown

                Again, you don’t know what you’re talking about on this.

    2. Umm, they had the ALCM – Air launched cruise missile back in the 1980’s. We bragged it could fly right into the Kremlin dining room window. Doesn’t that count?

    3. Air Force says there are no nuke-carrying drones.

      Nevermind that nearly all nukes are one time use drones.

  16. Let’s see. It’s not mandatory, so it must be… that other one.

    Don’t tell me. I know this one.

  17. This is just a minor issue, which may be easily clarified by a thousand-page addendum to the federal register.

  18. http://www.forbes.com/sites/se…..drone-ban/

    Forbes has a great article on this. The FAA is actually worse than Reason makes them appear. They really have no basis to prohibit this other than they just don’t anything that is not in their view “recreational”. The FAA is being arbitrary and unlawful but make up for it by blatantly violating the 1st Amendment.

    1. There is a legitimate concern with the use of drones around airports at altitudes that interfere with regular traffic. However, the FAA has chosen to take the vague route instead of doing the necessary work to develop specific rules.

      To some extent,they have always been this way. Even though you may not have violated a particular rule as a pilot they can bring down the hammer using a number of ill-defined regulations.

      They are also extremely risk averse, cell phone bans being the prime example.

      1. At some point I could see drones being a real threat to commercial air traffic. That would be true, however, regardless of how the drone was being used. The recreational versus commercial exception is insane.

        If the FAA came out and said, “no drones over a certain size or above a certain altitude within three miles of an airport”, I couldn’t fault them.

        I honestly don’t understand what they are doing. It is not about controlling everything or they would be going after hobbyists as well. It sure as hell isn’t about safety.

        I think this is an example of the kind of primitive thinking I keep pointing to in other contexts. The only explanation for the FDA’s actions I can see is that they don’t like the word “commercial”. Seriously. They banned drones for “commercial use” and have now defined that to include these people. By why ban “commercial use”? Because they are primitives who think words are magic and have powers of their own. Commercial is one of those magic words. It is bad and therefore must be ban. The whole thing is sort of a cargo cult when you think about it.

        1. I have a friend who does crash evaluations for the NTSB, primarily in the GA world. He’s about 250 years old and extremely frank. It would be interesting to get his take on all of this.

          1. The NTSB and FAA famously do not get along. But never forget the NTSB has.been a staunch advocate of ratcheting down the DUI BAC limits in the face of data showing that will not be likely to reduce accident rates.

            1. I doubt this person would be supportive of such a measure. He’s definitely old-school. Made me do spins first day out. He would kill the engine at random times during flights just to see how I would react. Do they even do things like that anymore? I know spins are not required now.

              1. My instructor did a.fair amount of.engine-out scenarios with.me. spins aren’t required, and all my training was.done.in spin-prohibited aircraft. Iwant to get.some time this.summer in a.152 so I can practice.spin recovery.

      2. The FAA’s sole reason for existing is to improve and.ensure.the safety of.aviation in the.US. Early on it was focused on licensing.of.pilots.and.commercial operations to attempt to reduce.risk for non-pilots on the.vround and in the air.

        Primarily, FAA seems to see its mission as preventing air disasters that would hurt people on the ground or paying passengers. In practice, it tries to do this by making it exceptionally difficult to do anything in aviation. The language of the FAA is all about “authorization.” Nothing is permitted that is not “authorized.” You can’t even change the oil on an airplane if you don’t have a pilot’s license or a mechanic’s license.

        In practice, the FAA is hindering its own stated purpose for existing by making it extremely difficult to innovate and take advantage of new technologies to improve safety, navigation, and reliability. The only reason a brand new small plane (for instance, a Piper Archer) costs over $300k is the FAA requirements that every last part be certified. The aircraft we fly in the General Aviation world are mostly 60-year old tech because.of this.

        1. I’m well aware. I’m always amazed that avionics have advanced as quickly as they have, given the FAA’s reluctance to approve anything.

          If GA aircraft engines had half the tech that your average Toyota does, it would be a game changer for the industry.

          1. GA piston engines have to do things a lot differently than a car engine (high power output all the time being one of them). But imprpvementts in safety, reliability, and efficiency that car engines have enjoyed for decades due.to electronic controls are only now trickling into the GA market in the form of FADEC systems, and only at extremely expensive prices.

            The homebuilt market is so far ahead.of the certified GA fleet, it is shameful.

            1. They seem more concerned with eliminating leaded avgas than anything else.

              1. As with the rest of the Federal government, they have forgotten their original charter and seem to.be.overly focused on environmental issues.

              2. And while they want to get.rid of tetraethyllead, they aren’t making.it.easy on anyone who wants to provide an.alternative. the FAA seems.to have suffered regulatory capture by the big players and views general aviation as an annoyance.

    2. The FAA is being arbitrary and unlawful but make up for it by blatantly violating the 1st Amendment.

      What makes them any different than any other law enforcement agency?

      1. Well, for starters they’re not supposed to be a law enforcement agancy. Or have they gotten a SWAT team too? I suppose if the Dept. of Education can have one…

        1. They typically use local law enforcement as backup when making spot visits. I’ve been on the receiving end of one of those thanks to Phillip Morris and their paranoid security team.

          1. These agencies have been arming themselves so they don’t have to depend on local law enforcement who might say “No, we’re not going to help you stop these people from saving lives.”

            1. I’m not aware of the FAA going this route yet. Not saying it isn’t true, but I don’t think they have Steven Seagal on the payroll yet.

              1. Yet… yet… yet….

                Preview is your friend. My high school English teacher would kick my ass for using repetitive phrasing like that.

            2. It should be “You want to stop these people from saving lives? You’re under arrest. I don’t care who you are, you’re under arrest. I don’t care who you work for, you’re under arrest. If you insist on resisting arrest, I’ll be happy to put you in traction in the prison ward.”

        2. When regulation has the power of law, and the only people who can enforce it are regulatory agencies, then regulatory agencies become de facto law enforcement.

    3. FTA:

      In response to a Spokane, Washington journalist’s use of a model aircraft for news gathering, FAA spokesman Les Door said, “we can’t let them [journalists] do it [use model aircraft for news gathering] as long as there are no rules in place.”

      That which is not specifically permitted is prohibited. Literally. There’s simply no words to express the idiocy of these clowns.

  19. Oh, it’s a big pretty white drone with red stripes, rotors on the corners, and it looks like a big spider.

    1. +1 amphetamines

    2. Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue.

  20. The FAA announced a purported ban on “business” use of model aircraft

    Drones are for killing terrorists, not for making EVUL money with.

    The agency, which is under pressure from Congress to establish a coherent body of regulations for drones by the end of 2015, did initially recommend that TXEQ get emergency certificates of authority. In his reply, Schulman noted that such certificates are irrelevent, because the administration only grants them to other government bodies or their contractors.

    Natch. Some animals are more equal than others.

  21. Too bad, i was waiting for that WiFi from Facebook and fuck the cable company.

  22. Too bad. I was waiting for facebook to start offering wifi via drone aircraft.

  23. In practice, the FAA is hindering its own stated purpose for existing by making it extremely difficult to innovate and take advantage of new technologies to improve safety, navigation, and reliability.

    Are you intentionally trying to shake my confidence in the government’s ability to effectively react to technological innovation, or something?

    1. Lol, I don’t believe you still, if 3ver, had any.such confidence.

  24. That which is not regulated, taxed and licensed is illegal.

  25. that ban is not binding on the public because it is only a policy, not a regulation.

    I’ve already forgotten the specifics, but I thought a federal judge ruled very recently, in effect, that agency pronouncements have the force of law regardless of the failure to promulgate regulation as specified in the Administrative Procedure Act.

    1. Truly, the Age of Lawlessness is upon us. I recall well a time, not all that long ago (maybe 2001), when I told a regulator to pound sand because he couldn’t provide blackletter support for his orders to my company. A risk, even back then, but we actually prevailed. Guess that’s not possible today.

      1. Was this prior to the “day that changed everything”?

        1. I think it was, now that you mention it. Huh.

    2. If true, that fucking sucks. Might as well be living in a banana republic.

      1. What do you mean “Might as well”?

        I used to get a lot of mileage out of the “Send me a copy of the regulation/statute out of the Federal Register/Federal Code, and we’ll talk.”

        Not so much, anymore. Fuck, CMS has secret memos to their auditors detailing auditing requirements (which are functionally equivalent to rules) that they are specifically and overtly ordered not to disclose.

        Its not just unpromulgated rules. Its actual, no-kidding, secret laws.

        1. Ignorance of the intra-department memos is no excuse.

      2. Pretty sure it was here on H & R, within the last few days or week at the most. Can’t recall the topic. I want to say some DC Circuit Judge issued some boneheaded ruling essentially giving some agency pronouncement force of law even though it wasn’t legally promulgated under APA notice-and-comment rulemaking.

    3. I seem to remember something about this too. That regulatory agency X can send out a memo, and *wham* law of the land, SWAT teams inbound, jail time imminent.

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