If you thought the recent Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) drone rules were restrictive, just stand by. Both state and local authorities have identified the latest technology fad they must regulate and it is drones.
Hobby drones haven’t been around for long. In fact, Chris Anderson, founder of 3D Robotics, claims to have “accidentally kickstarted the domestic drone boom,” back around 2007.
Leveraging Moore’s-law, Anderson suggested that drone technology would double while size and prices plummet. Much of drone technology is based on that used in cell phones. The components—sensors, optics, batteries, and embedded processors—all of them growing smaller and faster each year, primarily because of their use in millions of cell phones. Anderson predicted, “Just as the 1970s saw the birth and rise of the personal computer, this decade will see the ascendance of the personal drone. We’re entering the Drone Age.”
Anyone who has attended a recent IBC or NAB show certainly has seen the rapid increase in drone technology, both in sophistication and lower prices. But it wasn’t until about 2014 that a general recognition developed that along with the exciting and fun things drones could do was the opportunity (or from Government’s perspective- necessity) to regulate them. That is where we now find ourselves.
Government is here to help
New drone technology was great. One could record fabulous video, inspect power lines, enjoy a low-cost family hobby, what’s not to like?
True to form, regulators quickly identified something new to control citing drones as potential killers. Drones might fall on people crash into cars, buildings or, perish the thought, airplanes, thereby causing death and destruction. Washington bureaucrats decided that unless drones were regulated, the world could daily be seeing Sullenberger-In-The-Hudson scenarios.
For those The Broadcast Bridge readers outside the U.S. that refers to a 2009 event where a US Airways aircraft was struck by Canada geese on takeoff killing both engines. The result was that the captain, Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger was forced to land the plane in the Hudson river, which he did artfully. Thanks to his skills, all 155 passengers on the plane were quickly rescued and none sustained critical injuries.
Following up on the meme, “You never want a serious crisis go to waste,” first voiced by Obama’s Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, regulators quickly expressed outrage that a foreign government’s birds were damaging U.S. aircraft—putting U.S. citizens’ lives at stake and it had to stop!
Uh, no. That is not what happened at all.
That is because Canada geese and other fowl are “protected” species, which means they cannot be killed, injured or harmed. Despite that the birds are no longer “migratory”, which was the initial reason for protection, bird lovers have been able to prevent any remediation of the birds and the dangers they pose to aircraft.
A Canada goose can weigh as much as 14 pounds. The FAA claims more than 13,000 bird-airplane strikes occurred in 2014, a record high.
Persons who kill Canada geese without permission are charged as felons; such is what happened to employees of a Williamsburg, Virginia golf course. Some employees there killed 39 geese with poisoned birdseed and were later fined several thousands of dollars.
According to the FAA, there were 13,668 bird-airplane strikes in 2014, a record high. Birds were involved in 96.9 percent of the reported strikes, terrestrial mammals in 2.2 percent, bats in 0.8 percent and reptiles in 0.1 percent.
On the other hand, there has been one unconfirmed drone-plane strike in 2016 and that was outside the U.S.
While the U.S. Department of the Interior has sanctioned the limited sterilization of Canada goose eggs (done by shaking or puncturing the eggshell) all appeals to remove the Canada goose from the list of protected species have been denied.
So, while we cannot help protect planes from the tens of thousands of Canada geese that surround our airports, drones are an entirely different matter.
Kansas names drone czar
This July, the Kansas Department of Transportation (DOT) named Bob Brock as its first “director of unmanned aircraft systems,” AKA, drone czar. Mr Brock is being paid $80,000/yr to regulate drones. In addition to his salary, he will have office, travel and other expenses—all paid by Kansas taxpayers. Said Kansas-State University's Kurt Barnhart, who directs the university’s Applied Aviation Research department, “[Brock] will Bring lasting economic benefit to Kansas.”
Bob Brock has been hired for $80,000 plus office costs by the Kansas Department of Transportation to write regulations for drones used within the state borders. Other states and cities are following suite.
Brock said the growing use of drones, “must be mapped out to ensure safety in the air, privacy for Kansas on the ground and transparency in any state-run operations.”
Kansans must love drones. Kansas State University offers a four-year degree in “UAS technology”. The Drone Training HQ website ranks the K-state program No.2 in the nation. Another site, Dronethusiast.com, puts K-State at the top of its “16 best drone universities”
In my Kansas home town, the city commission has decided to add regulations on the use of any drone within the city limits. I was recently confronted by a LEO (that’s law enforcement officer) because I was flying fixed wing R/C aircraft over a farmer’s grass field. It was a case of 20-questions before he believed his own eyes that the object in the sky was a RC airplane circling over a farmer’s grass field and probably not dangerous.
Other states to regulate drones
Other states also want to regulate drones. A bill sponsored by a Dallas, TX legislator tried to make it a crime to take photos of private land using a remote-controlled drone. Fortunately, sounder minds prevailed and the bill died in session.
North Dakota prohibits mounting lethal weapons on drones. Arkansas won't allow remote-controlled aircraft to photograph critical buildings such as power plants and oil refineries. Michigan bans using drones for hunting — or to harass hunters. North Carolina requires commercial drone operators to take a test to ensure they're familiar with the regulations.
The FAA recently published rules and regulations requiring the registration of most drones and their owner's names and addresses.
So there you have it. When it comes toys, the Feds, the States and Local regulators salivate at the opportunity to control another aspect of our lives. Right now, if you want to fly UAS, you need to register and pay a $5 fee. Or, there is a for-profit company that will help you register and for that privilege, you have to pay $25.
I predict that soon the hobby will become “pay to fly”, you will need a permit, much like a fishing license to fly your plane, drone or other UAS. The FAA registration fee could rise to $50, even more—you know, just to cover the cost of regulation.
But, take heart. You are far more likely to be killed in a plane crash caused by a bird strike than one caused by a drone. So if your passenger aircraft does have an accident because of a bird strike, just remember to thank bird-lovers everywhere.
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