Federal Aviation Administration

FAA Grounds College Students Pursing Drone Degrees

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In drone school, students study math and learn robotics. What they do not do is fly drones.

That's because per Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rules, unmanned aerial vehicles cannot be operated for commercial use—and that applies to for-profit teaching programs.

To get around the rules, schools like Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University train students on flight simulators or have students fly drones indoors.

But this restriction is still likely to stifle academic research, according to a lengthy letter signed by 29 professors and sent to the FAA.

The letter details several issues that concern drone enthusiasts:

1. Unprecedented Expansion of FAA Jurisdiction

The Interpretative Rule states that "the FAA intends to apply its enforcement authority to model aircraft operations that endanger the safety of the National Airspace System (NAS)."While federal statutes in place since 1926 grant the FAA authority to regulate the navigable air space, understood to be the airspace above approximately 500 feet altitude in most areas, the NAS is a term that the FAA now implies comprises all airspace in the United States, including our campuses, private backyards, and possibly even inside buildings.

2. Unreasonably Broad Definition of "Aircraft" 

The Interpretive Rule also vastly expands the conventional definition of "aircraft" to include, in a most literal sense, "any contrivance invented, used, or designed to navigate, or fly in, the air". Objects the size of butterflies and even toys that are "used in the air" appear to be gaining the rights, regulatory obligations, and federal protections afforded to full-sized passenger aircraft.

3. Unwarranted Distinction between Recreational and Commercial Model Aircraft

The regulatory distinction between "recreational" and "commercial" use of model aircraft is troubling in that the FAA has not substantiated how this distinction promotes safety. It is concerning, for example, that a ten-year-old hobbyist can freely fly model aircraft for recreation, while our nation's scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs are prohibited from using the same technology in the same types of environments.

Private for-profit schools are not the only ones getting on the FAA's nerves. Last year, the agency sent letters to two public universities telling them to shut down their drone journalism programs. The University of Missouri and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln were both told to halt their programs and obtain Certificates of Authorization. The process for being granted a certificate can take several months. The schools had been trying to operate under the rules set for recreational use of model aircraft. But the FAA didn't consider the programs as recreational.

The FAA considers the journalism drones to be "public aircraft" and the university to be a public operator, which places it in a more restrictive category than amateurs.

Under amateur rules, unmanned aircraft must stay under 400 feet and conduct flights away from populated areas. Under the more restrictive rules, the program must designate a small area—up to 2 square miles—and provide proof of the airworthiness of each vehicle.

Entrepreneurs, researchers, and students trying to use drones in new innovative ways will have to continue to wade around in murky waters because the FAA has not finished writing its drone regulations. Congress gave the agency to September 2015, but according to a report from the Department of Transportation's inspector general's office, the FAA is "significantly behind schedule" and will likely not meet the deadline. 

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  1. If the FAA didn’t do this, think of how many of the magic imps that are used to pilot these things would be dead already.

    Won’t someone think of the magic imps!?

    1. I don’t know about imps. but a kid I went to high school with used to send up mice in his model rockets. They survived, but were apparently a little worse for the wear.

      1. So he’s somewhat of a dick

    1. Is that paper airplane registered with FAA? Well, IS IT?!

  2. Non sequitur – I would love to go to Embry-Riddle. I bet that places is lousy with testosterone. Plus, airplanes are cool.

    1. Lousy with Air Force guys, so the testosterone levels might not be as high as you would hope….

      *waves Army flag, then runs from room*

      1. Reminds me of this commercial

      2. You know, “Army of One” seems like a slogan for a pro-masturbation charity.

        1. And how might I go about getting a tax deduction for “donating” to this charity? Asking for a friend.

          1. Well, you can join the people who joined the Army.

      3. *Over loudspeaker*
        PAGING FRANCISCO!!! INCOMING TROLL CALL ON LINE 1! PICK UP THE WHITE TROLL PHONE!!!

    2. My ex-girlfriend went there. And yep, testosterone, especially among the pilots in training.

      1. Ugh, the pilots…

        Us engineering students had a joke that “pilot math” meant figuring out when to stop drinking in order to be sober enough for their check ride. Think about that next time you fly.

        1. Us engineering students had a joke that “pilot math” meant figuring out when to stop drinking in order to be sober enough for their check ride. Think about that next time you fly.

          Yep. She was an engineer, and that pretty much summed up her feelings with regard to the pilots. That and they weren’t too bright (compared to engineers).

    3. I would love to study aviation logistics, but because of union rules I could never become an ATC. Too old. Too old to begin the training. /yodavoice

      1. What? ATC-sim.com not good enough for you?

        On a related note, anyone have XPlane 10? I’m thinking of making the switch now that MFS is dead. How easy it is it to find freeware traffic and livery files? I almost exclusive sim GA, are there good files for that?

    4. I went there. 12 to 1 male to female ratio, so yeah, total sausage fest.

  3. Stop the presses! Call out the newsboys! Get me rewrite! Bureaucrats seize opportunity to extend their control!

  4. Can’t allow people to make money without asking permission and then obeying orders. Otherwise you’d have anarchy. Yep. Free enterprise is truly dead.

  5. Am I being overly simplistic to think that the only regulation for this should read “Keep ’em under 500 feet, and out of approach and departure corridors around airports?”

    1. “and try not to hit power lines, please.”

      1. In all likelihood, I don’t think most off-the-shelf quadcopters would do any damage to power lines. I know my phantom wouldn’t. It’s too small to cause a short across the lines or an arc to ground, and it weighs about as much as a large crow.

        At worst, lost magnetic compass, lost GPS lock, or lost comms.

        If I ever get bored my my phantom, I’ll be sure to test the theory (in someone else’s neighborhood) and upload the video anonymously to YouTube.

  6. “Pursing drone degrees”?

    I am imagining all of Monty Python dressed as British housewives slapping a bee’s nest with handbags as a protest against the Celsius scale and the decimalisation of the Pound.

    1. There’s a typo in the hed, BAN.

      Sheesh, I’m leaving to go chase the cat with a Parrot quadrotor,

  7. Central control is all fine and good until academics are affected.

  8. “or have students fly drones indoors.”

    Future rule created by FAA bureaucrat and upheld by 2017 Supreme Court: FAA shall have jurisdiction over indoor and outdoor airspace.

  9. You know, I think I now understand why we don’t have cheap space travel, moonbases, and flying cars.

    1. As soon as FAA’s NextGen is working. So close, they just need a small increase in funding.

  10. The regulatory distinction between “recreational” and “commercial” use of model aircraft is troubling in that the FAA has not substantiated how this distinction promotes safety. It is concerning, for example, that a ten-year-old hobbyist can freely fly model aircraft for recreation, while our nation’s scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs are prohibited from using the same technology in the same types of environments.

    “Well then, those little 10 year old terrorists are going to have cease and desist their terrorist activities or face prison time!” – FAA

    1. My hobby is making money.

    2. The reason why “recreational” has it easier is that Congress (in the law that gives the FAA until 2015 to come up with a rule) specifically told the FAA to go easy on hobbyists (and overturned more restrictive FAA rules)– and then the FAA promptly set about defining it in the absolute most restrictive way possible, trying to do what the FAA wanted anyway, ignoring Congress.

      1. Naturally, since the FAA is closer to the president than Congress and, therefore, closer to the people. Well, closer to the abstract form of the people as embodied by a cardboard cutout of Jimmy Stewart in the White House.

    3. “is troubling in that the FAA has not substantiated how this distinction promotes safety.”

      You want reason and rationale to be applied to government regulation? When are you people ever gonna learn that FYTW is the only reason they need?

      1. So the title of the article was wrong; “FAA Adds FYTW Mandate To Drone School Curricula.”

  11. Jimmy sammy S So says that aint gonna happen.

    http://www.WentAnon.Tk

  12. Pretty good article about academic inconvenience.

    FAA also shuts down volunteer search and rescue operations. That should have more legs.
    http://www.nbcnews.com/#/tech/…..act-n87776

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