The past few days has been active in the world of UAVs, so here are a few thoughts before Christmas.
First of all, if you are a new UAV owner, check out this video, a Public Service Announcement from the FAA. It also has a link to this website: Know Before You Fly.
The Washington Post published an article this week based on internal FAA communications. There appears to be quite a rift within the agency regarding the path forward with UAVs. Safety inspectors feel like they have been marginalized in the process, which they believe is bending to industry pressure to move forward. The FAA hired a former movie industry lobbyist to advise on how to speed up the process, but it has only increased the tension between safety and policy personnel. This was highlighted last week when one of the studios which received a 333 exemption had their drone crash, only to be found the next day in “rugged terrain” on private property. Undoubtedly, safety inspectors who had advised that the studio’s plans were too dangerous but were overruled by policymakers feel vindicated. While the FAA is moving ahead with a comprehensive regulation, but the internal strife makes less likely that rule making will proceed expeditiously.
The FAA’s current trajectory has injured their reputation and ability to handle the UAVs swarming the market. The Agency clearly lacks the resources necessary to handle the case load of exemption applications and also develop coherent rules for the industry.
A major concern of safety inspectors, which was discussed at length during the House sub-committee hearings (see the Inaugural post) is that UAVs lack crash avoidance technology to comply with a fundamental principle of aviation safety – “see and avoid.” While some UAVs have cameras, they do not have the inherent ability to detect and respond to situations in the same way as a human pilot.
While the FAA’s safety concerns are valid, UAVs are here to stay and an effective regulation has to be issued. The flood of exemption requests cannot be dealt with by the agency.
The UAS America Fund, a new organization styled as a Public-Private Partnership with its funding from private sources, has submitted a proposed regulation to the FAA for UAVs. They have based their proposal on research, including some by the FAA. Their plan is to compartmentalize the market and issue regulations piece-meal. The proposed their first yesterday for the under 3 pound UAV market. They also have a chart on their website that illustrates how they envision the market being broken down.
The proposed regulation is for what UAS America Fund calls the “micro-UAV” category. This would include UAV’s under 3 pounds and the proposed regulation includes limits similar to that which exists for model airplanes. Some notable differences would be that commercial users could operate under the proposed regulation and all operations would be limited to daylight hours. Also, operators would require some amount of experience (5 hours flight time and 25 take-off/landings) before using their UAV for hire. There are other details included in the regulation, but I hit the highlights.
I hope to add some meat to the analysis of the proposed regulation, but I wanted to hit this breaking news before the holiday.