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Call to Action: Respond to Damaging FAA Legal Interpretation

  • Jul 25, 2014 · 7:00 PM

The FAA recently published a draft document entitled "Interpretation of the Special Rule for Model Aircraft" that is potentially very damaging to our community. If implemented, this legal interpretation would outlaw FPV flying with goggles, create additional requirements to get permission from aircraft control towers to fly, and generally seek to apply greater FAA interference with non-commercial use of UAS. 

The agency is legally obliged to offer a comment period and now is the time to make our voices heard before the FAA takes away our legal rights! The comment period closes July 25, so please visit http://www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=FAA[masked] and post your response before that time. 

Below is some suggested language you can use in your comments. Please feel to copy it, adapt it, or write something completely new, but please don't let July 25 pass without letting the FAA know that our community will not let them destroy this activity that we are so passionate about!

"I am a UAS operator and a member of the Drone User Group Network, a 5000+ community based organization dedicated to teaching people how to operate UAS. Most of our members’ activities are non-commercial in nature and fall under the auspices of model aircraft. Our community is deeply disappointed by the FAA’s recently published Interpretation of the Special Rule for Model Aircraft, which will undermine this activity, the industry that supports it, and the many individuals who are contributing to innovation in the aerospace sector as recreational users. 

The FAA seems to have taken the most restrictive possible stance in regards to first person view (FPV) flying, essentially banning the increasingly popular practice of flying using goggles streaming from a camera mounted on the model aircraft. There is no evidence that any significant risks to the NAS comes from FPV flying when people follow community based guidelines such as those issued by the Academy of Model Aeronautics, which you are obviously referencing in footnote 2, and requires FPV flying to be done with a spotter who maintains visual line of site (VLOS) and who is capable of taking control of the craft in the case that they observe anything unsafe happening. There is no reason why this two-person team can’t be considered to be operating the aircraft together and therefore maintain the VLOS criteria mentioned in FAA Modernization and Reform Act. 

The FAA is also adding new requirements to model aircraft that extend beyond the law when it states, “If the model aircraft operator provides notice of forthcoming operations which are then not authorized by air traffic or objected to by the airport operator, the FAA expects the model aircraft operator will not conduct the proposed flights.“ This statement implies that the person operating the model aircraft needs positive authorization in order to fly, which is a very different concept than what is in the language of previous statutes requiring operator and control tower notification. A large portion of the American population lives within 5 miles of an airport, so this will effect a significant portion of flyers. 

Overall, it is clear that the FAA is intending to circumvent Congress’ intention to allow model aircraft use to be governed by community-based organizations. Your statement that “The FAA interprets the section 336 rule making prohibition as one that must be evaluated on a rule-by-rule basis,” provides an interpretation of your authority that is so broad as to render Congress’ clear intention meaningless and creates unnecessary uncertainty amongst the community of model aircraft pilots. Community based organizations have been issuing safety guidelines since well before the FAA was founded and have an exemplary record in maintaining public and operator safety. It is unfortunate that the FAA has decided to take an antagonistic approach towards the model aircraft community, alienating
organizations such as the AMA that have made significant efforts to
collaborate with the agency.

Non-commercial users of UAS technology have an important role to play in contributing to aerospace innovation in the United States. By restricting our community’s activities beyond what is strictly needed to maintain public safety, the FAA is undermining American competitiveness as other countries allow much more freedom for both non-commercial and commercial use of UAS. We hope the FAA will reconsider both the specific additional restrictions being placed on model aircraft pilots that are outlined above as well as its overall approach to engaging with our community. "

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  • Nils G.

    July 25, 2014

    • Christopher V.

      Yeah, that's true. a recent study regarding public perception [Eyerman et al, 2013] found that 67% of a sample of the general public that does not know anything about small UAS showed concern about government use for monitoring citizens in public places (people generally don't like the idea of being watched and recorded even if they're technically in public view), and 65% are concerned about safety issues. Despite all of that, the general public still strongly supported the use of small UAS for one-off applications like search and rescue (88%), homeland security (67%), and commercial applications (61%). For those who know more about small UAS, support seems to be quite high, most people finding that the advantages for allowing use of small UAS outweigh the problems.

      July 26, 2014

    • Christopher V.

      In my experience I find that most people who are against drones aren't against the technology per se; it's more of a NIMBY (not in my backyard) thing. Just like nobody is truly fighting the existence and proliferation of cameras in cell phones, but some people don't like being recorded on camera.

      July 26, 2014

  • Bill

    Randy Forbes is my Congressman, a conservative at heart and very concerned over excessive big government regulation. I took the above and revised wording where necessary to make the comments TO him ABOUT the FAA. I also mentioned to him that the members of this group have had several recent fly-ins and specifically about last nights event, about 45 min SE of Woodbridge, and I offered to invite him to come fly with us and see how capable our craft and operators are and to discuss in person with us how the FAA can kill an existing national hobby of RC aircraft, stiffle the growth of new technologies and kill commercial use of these great tools.
    I suggest that each of you do the same, write not only to the FAA during the comment period, but contact your congressmen that you know are likely to listen and invite them to come see for themselves.

    Bill

    1 · July 22, 2014

  • Amit T.

    Just sharing the following with the community here. I received this notification from HobbyKing that states - " FPV as we know it is in jeopardy.
    The FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) in the USA have announced that they are modifying the way that they interpret legislation relating to model aircraft flying. This announcement has many implications, but the two points of note that many of our customers will object to is that:
    1) Flying a model FPV using goggles will become illegal
    2) The FAA are able to further regulate all forms of model aircraft flying. "

    Please get your thoughts heard now, this stuff matters.
    http://www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=FAA[masked] "

    Message Link - http://www.hobbyking.com/hobbyking/store/newsPage.asp?utm_campaign=1197906&utm_content=4383277134&utm_medium=email&utm_source=EDM

    July 22, 2014

  • Nils G.

    If you look up knucklehead, this is what they should show: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GfxdeRx2fLA

    July 21, 2014

    • Christopher V.

      Just an example for reference; in the UK, if you want to fly any drone with camera near people/buildings/structu­res (the majority of commercial aerial photography work falls in this category), you must apply for CAA permission (not a license), and pay a fee (7kg or less pays a smaller fee). This permission has to be renewed once every 12 months, and requires that you have some proof of overall airmanship skills and awareness and ability to operate the aircraft safely (take an exam from a certified authority, like EuroUSC or Resource UAS)

      July 21, 2014

    • Christopher V.

      The point really, is to design the regulation such that we small UAS users can share the airspace without ever having to approach the federal government (FAA) unless we pose some sort of threat to people/property that's not involved in the activity, or other users of the airspace. So my idea is: you want to fly a small drone for fun, fine, no problem. If you want to fly near people/property/structur­es, at least show you know what you're doing (by taking a quiz and registering some paperwork), and if you want to fly anything bigger than 50lbs or outside of class G airspace or above 400ft THEN you'll need to talk to the feds. I think that keeps both the citizen and the FAA from being overburdened while keeping the airspace safe.

      1 · July 21, 2014

  • Amit T.

    I am not in the area so thought to ask couple related questions as I myself trying to understand the application of rules.

    If FAA is stating that people cannot use unmanned aerial systems (UAS) for commercial use, then how come online retailers and crowd-funded projects are able to sell UAS?
    Won't they get in trouble with FAA or does it not violate any current FAA rules?
    So may be FAA allows selling UAS but they do not allow (at least for now) to sell the product obtained (like videos or photo) by using UAS, correct?

    July 20, 2014

    • Amit T.

      Matt, thanks for responding to my question. I understand your point and I think that the definition of usage is so complex that it is going to take a while to construct rules, regulations and laws around it. I guess right now they are in kind of "panic mode" and may be employing some "fear factor" to make people tread carefully.

      July 20, 2014

    • Matt

      That is exactly what they're doing. There is also some obvious spite. Each time one of their cases gets tossed out of court, they actually escalate the very behavior that they were told not to do. What we'd like to see happen is the passage of intelligent, logical, and reasonable regulations. Regulations that would protect full size aircraft, protect people on the ground, and allow for sensible, safe, and reasonable hobby and commercial use. And such that would appropriately deal with the "knuckleheads"­ that operate in unsafe manners. Part of that is also education of the unknowing public that buys these things with no concept of the risk and responsibility. They have no idea what they're doing is dangerous. Then there are people who know what they're doing is explicitly illegal and/or dangerous, such as flying in the FRZ around DC...

      July 20, 2014

  • Nils G.

    The current enforcement by the FAA relates to usage only, a seller of UAV's has no control of the customers usage. The FAA is at a boiling point because of recent losses in court while attempting to prosecute those using UAV's in a commercial atmosphere. The FAA has commercial laws that do not address the usage of UAV's directly, however they have policies in place, under current code, are not enforceable. The FAA is sending cease orders to those companies blatantly advertising services for things like real estate, search and rescue, mapping etc. Many misconceptions are out there with things like certificates of authority, remain below 400 AGL to name a few. Those things do not entitle anyone to legally use UAV's in a commercial capacity. People that even joke about flying near airports hurt our mission and empower the FAA to halt all RPV usage. Technology is out paces the governments ability to regulate and the FAA has challenges ahead, they, like most of us, want safe skies.

    1 · July 20, 2014

  • Tom S.

    Gentlemen - I was in a meeting with DHS last week and there is great concern that someone will fly a drone near DCA and it will be sucked into the engine of an aircraft on final approach - with catastrophic consequences
    We are the good guys so we must take the high road.

    2 · July 20, 2014

    • Matt

      I'm actually surprised nobody has thought "Hey, Gravely Point would be a great place to fly my new RTF Phantom". The "knuckleheads"­ would probably think getting a closeup of a plane is cool.

      July 20, 2014

    • Timothy R.

      No one should fly directly over or near any airports. Aside from being extremely dangerous, it would undermine our credibility as a voice for sensible policies around UAS. DCA is especially sensitive due to the flight restricted zone and national security concerns. Although we stand in opposition to poorly formed regulations that impinge on our rights and undermine progress, we need to be thoughtful about what forms our protest takes to ensure that our message is strengthened and not undermined.

      2 · July 20, 2014

  • David P

    I will be out of town during this meeting. Otherwise, I would most certainly attend to discuses this most important issue!

    July 20, 2014

    • David S.

      Greetings David. I think the meetup post was more of an "As Info" sort of posting. The deadline on public comment is July 25. All communities who have a stake in Aerial RC and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles are getting the word out so that you and all of our voices are heard on the matter. I've been spamming the hell out of social media and speaking about this every chance I get in attempts even those not in this realm will help us engage the FAA.

      July 20, 2014

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