Drones

FAA: Drone Regulations Are Vital to Protecting Safety, and You'll Get Them in a Decade or So

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Death from above! Typically a few feet above…
Credit: Don McCullough / photo on flickr

Don't go holding your breath waiting for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to determine a comprehensible, graspable policy on commercial drone use. Despite wading into the previously unregulated unmanned aircraft industry in 2007 and forbidding commercial drone use until federal rules could be put into place, it's just about to start making those rules (seven years later) and is not expecting to finish the job until well after 2020.

From Forbes contributor, John Goglia:

Although small unmanned aircraft rulemaking—applicable to those under 55 pounds—is expected to begin by the end of this year, the entire rulemaking process for significant rules, according to [Jim] Williams [head of FAA's unmanned aircraft office], takes 7 to 10 years.  And, he stated, that this rulemaking would certainly be considered significant.  So it seems that no rules are likely to be finalized until the end of 2021 at the earliest and possibly not until 2024.  This is much later than many in the commercial UAV community that I have spoken with expected and hoped for.

Until there are final rules, Mr. Williams stated that approval of commercial drone operations would only be done on a case-by-case basis.  As of now, only commercial operations in the Arctic have been approved. But Mr. Williams was hopeful that a process authorized in accordance with Section 333 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 would allow a faster introduction of commercial operations, at least in some specific categories, such as precision agriculture (fertilizer and pesticide application), closed-set filming, refinery, pipeline and power line inspection. 

In April, Steve Chapman highlighted the terrible way the FAA has been throwing its weight around to block private use of drones, even for surveillance assistance in rescue missions. Why would anybody trust the FAA to use reasonable discretion given the authority to approve drone applications on a case-by-case basis?

Williams also claimed that there's been one near-miss of US Airways flight nearly colliding with a drone over Florida. The CNN report, though, fails to explain whether the drone was actually a private commercial drone in the first place. And it's particularly telling that he throws out such scares at the same time as telling people it will be maybe another 10 years before these rules exist. The FAA has little claim to power over drones anyway. A federal court has already ruled the FAA overreached by fining a businessman for using a drone to take video for a commercial. The FAA is appealing the decision and is, of course, continuing to act as though it has this authority in the meantime.

(Hat tip to Mark Sletten)

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  1. Lay off everyone assigned to the rule-making project now. They’re clearly incompetent, rent seeking featherbedders.

    1. Look, just because we’d get clearer answers by watching the way birds fly or jabbing hot pokers into ox scapulae and watching the way they crack does not mean that these poor regulators should lose their jobs. It just means that they should oversee a team of Chinese diviners.

      1. “No lightning flashed! No owl hooted! The rule, as proposed, is adopted.”

  2. I still love the idea that commercial use is wrong, but private use that is identical in every way is fine.

    If I use my remote controlled plane to take a nice neighborhood shot and put it on my blog to show neat my area is, that’s fine. If I do the same to promote a house I’m listing, that’s bad.

    1. Obviously the solution is to tax *both* usages.

    2. They’ve been doing this since forever. Can’t charge money with a Private Pilot’s Licence.

      Gotta have a Commercial rating, cuz muny iz baaaaad!

    3. Commerce clause means anything where any money changes hands is subject to regulation.

      If regulation doesn’t exist, then obviously that commercial activity must be completely and totally banned until rules are written because fuck you that’s why.

  3. As of now, only commercial operations in the Arctic have been approved.

    WHAT?! Why does the FAA hate *polar bears*?

  4. I got a DJI Phantom 2 weeks ago. It’s awesome. I haven’t figured out how to use it commercially, though…

    1. You can deliver tzatziki to my doorstep!

    2. That’s what they *all* say!

    3. What’s its payload capacity?

      1. I don’t know. It can fly around with my go pro for about 15 minutes, though.

        1. I left some tent stakes about 2/3 of the way up Long’s Peak last summer, I’ll give you 10 bucks if you can find em and pick em up.

  5. Why are we calling these things “drones”?

    It seems kind of silly and confusing to use the same word used for military unmanned kill-planes and for remote control quad-copters with cameras on them.

    1. Um…

      Because they ARE drones.

      Why do we call airliners jets while it’s confusing to use the same word used for military unmanned kill-planes?

      1. Are they drones? I guess I don’t know what the exact definition is. Since you are so sure, perhaps you can tell me. I thought it meant a male bee and was applied to the flying kill-bots and then spread to civilian unmanned craft.

        In any case, I still think there should be a different word to distinguish multi-million dollar death machines from affordable flying cameras and such. When discussing policies regarding little flying machines, it’s nice to have a neat distinction between the two very different classes of flying things.

        1. Drone means unmanned, remote controlled flying machine. Don’t matter if it’s sending picture to an iPhone or launching missiles at weddings, the word drone still applies.

        2. it’s nice to have a neat distinction between the two very different classes of flying things.

          Next you’re going to say it would be nice to have a distinction between same sex and opposite sex couples, since they’re very different classes of unions. Right?

          😉

          1. No, they’re pretty much the same. The only difference is that for one backdoor is just a fun option and for the other it’s pretty much a necessity.

        3. I still think there should be a different word to distinguish multi-million dollar death machines from affordable flying cameras and such.

          So what should the military call their “drones” that are “nothing more than affordable flying cameras and such.” You do realize that the VAST majority of military drones are for RECON and are unarmed. There aren’t more than two or three that can shoot anything.

          Furthermore, there is nothing a “drone” can do that cannot and has not been done with a manned aircraft. Drones aren’t evil…what matters is how they are used.

          drone 1 (dr??n)

          ? n
          1. a male bee in a colony of social bees, whose sole function is to mate with the queen
          2. ( Brit ) a person who lives off the work of others
          3. a pilotless radio-controlled aircraft

          1. OK, well maybe we should just have a new word for the kill-bot ones. Maybe “flying killbot”. Or I just shouldn’t care since it doesn’t really matter.

            1. Obamabot

  6. Keep em under 500 ft and out of approach corridors.

    There, how hard was that?

    1. Though shalt not creepshot thy neighbor’s wife/husband/college age daughter tanning naked on the back deck.

      1. I am thinking digital technology is going to usher in the golden age of the old pervert. I don’t see how there is anyway to stop such things given the size of photo equipment these days.

      2. Have been able to do that with an airplane/helo for years. Cover that tart up!

        1. But these quadrocopters and whatnot are much less noticeable than a helo hovering over your yard.

          Maybe they can do like Sprint and require a really fucking loud shutter clock on the camera. That’ll stop ’em.

          1. Movie cameras/targeting pods can see a long, long, long, long, way, with some pretty spectacular resolution.

            1. Oh, I know, but that option is still out of reach for most users, but Playa Everyman can pick up a quadrocopter, mount a GoPro on it to film a busty neighbor slathering herself with Hawaiian Tropic dry oil.

              I was in downtown LA this weekend and there were two helicopters filming. It was fun (and distracting while I was in traffic) to watch them maneuvering the city center.

    2. How about making it a strict liability crime anyone whose drone collides with or in anyway interferes with a commercial aircraft? That should keep people in line.

    3. But we need a new Department to enforce drone altitude measurements, and defining “approach corridor” in this context will keep a gaggle of attorneys busy until well after 2020.

  7. I love it, the President of Harvard, where they are or were going to have the mock black mass is named Faust. So we have the spectacle of Faust affirming the right to hold a black mass on campus.

    http://www.thecrimson.com/arti…..ee-speech/

    1. Maybe the Order of the Skull and Bones will allow a black mass at Yale.

  8. Despite wading into the previously unregulated unmanned aircraft industry in 2007 and forbidding commercial drone use until federal rules could be put into place

    We will have your freedom ready in about ten years. Until then, please hold off on any freedom activities.

  9. I haven’t figured out how to use it commercially, though…

    Topless (female) sunbathers, Dude. Was that really so hard?

    1. If the Girls Gone Wild guy can make millions, I am thinking “backyard topless hotties” ought to be at least a decent living.

    2. Brooks and I are clearly on the same a similar enough wavelength.

    3. Brooks and I are clearly on the same a similar enough wavelength.

      1. The squirrels apparently had to read your post twice to understand what you meant.

  10. I don’t see how there is anyway to stop such things given the size of photo equipment these days.

    I don’t know about you, but my house is in a free fire zone, and I reckon Buck #3 (quarter-inch ball bearings) would be an effective anti- drone remotely piloted aircraft round.

    1. Sure, you can always shoot it down, if you see it. And that is getting harder and harder, especially when you consider how available night vision equipment is getting. I don’t know about you but I can’t see going to the effort it would take to put up an anti-aircraft perimeter around my house.

      1. Just hire some Israeli contractors to put an Iron Dome on your property.

        1. If you know where I could purchase some mini guided missiles, I would be game. Setting up the system and testing it occasionally on the odd pigeon or squirrel would be enough fun to make it worth while.

          1. “If you know where I could purchase some mini guided missiles, I would be game.”

            So…what if I could?

            *looks rapidly left and right*

  11. If you know where I could purchase some mini guided missiles

    ACME has those.

  12. “June 6, 2014. AP. Rulemakers announced today that an accord has been reached to limit damage to sea oats growing on beaches in Normandy, France where the D-Day invasion of Nazi Europe has been long anticipated. They do, however, estimate it will be another four or five years before regulations can be finalized as to the permitted decibel level of exploding ordnance that will be utilized, given the sensitivity of soldier eardrums in both Allied and Axis forces.”

  13. At last count, the Department of Transportation had about 2,500 employees who make $170,000 a year or more, most of them in the FAA. And they can’t write regulations faster than that?

    1. They’re too busy trying to figure out how they can implement user fees and fuel taxes for all aircraft entering Class B space

      What’s frequently overlooked is how much it costs to run a user fee system. During the last debate on aviation taxes and fees in the late 1990’s, the Internal Revenue Service reported that it only cost $1.7 million to collect over $5.5 billion in excise tax revenue. A mere .001% cost by the government to collect! That’s because aviation fuel taxes are collected at the refinery, and ticket taxes are simply forwarded to the government.

      1. I keep trying to post the link, but I get an error that a word is too long. Just search for “faa user fee proposal” and it’s the first link to AOPA.org.

    2. Needs more studies.

    3. The more people who attend a meeting, the less that is accomplished. If you have 2500 people drafting a rule, I can bet they’ll all be dead before it’s finalized.

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