AVmail: May 26, 2014
Letter of the Week:
UAV Technology Won't Wait for FAA
A UAV (or any remotely controlled air vehicle) flown under 400 feet still has the potential to easily take down a manned aircraft, particularly if flown near final approaches to airport runways. I'd imagine that the 400-foot altitude limitation would also make low-flying manned aircraft vulnerable, near an airport or not.
There seems to be an exploding proliferation of small UAVs that have the potential to exceed 400-feet altitudes. They are flown by novice pilots right out of the box, by hobbyists who should probably know better, and, in this day and age, by people who have no problem with intentionally creating hazards to life and property. Without a transponder aboard the UAV, or a means of the UAV pilot determining his altitude, how can the 400-foot limitation be accurately observed? And how would you be able to see and avoid a UAV if you were aboard a manned aircraft?
I think that all UAV operators possessing air vehicles capable of climbing to an altitude where a mid-air collision with a manned aircraft would be possible be licensed and their UAVs required to be equipped with suitable exterior lighting, transponders, GPS, and other equipment that would make operation as safe as possible given a mixed operating environment. This needs to be done immediately, not after a long debate, analysis, and wait for legislative approval. The technology is not waiting for regulations to be established.
The FAA is right to be cautious about authorizing the use of drones. The risks involved are not all known, but they are a clear and present danger. However, the FAA is taking way too much time to come up with a plan to deal with this. These things are being sold right now, and regulation is needed now, not in 2020.
By the time 2020 comes, they may find that the cat is out of the bag, and millions of these aircraft are flying unregulated. The buyers of these cheap but potentially dangerous toys are not going to be stopped by FAA's blanket ban on commercial use. They are already using them that way, and a judge has already said it is O.K. to do so.
The question now is not whether they will buy and fly these things. The question is, "How long will they do it with no regulation?" The FAA needs to expedite this, or they will totally lose control of the situation, much like the FCC did with CB radios.
This issue should be cut and dry. UAVs operating via remote control (tablet or transmitter) for personal use should fall under the existing rules of the AMA, who currently govern the entire private sector for remote-control models.
If the UAV is operating commercially, either remotely controlled or autonomously via a preprogrammed GPS route, then it is a piloted aircraft and should fly under the rules that govern all other pilots, defined by the FAA. There are already regulations in place to govern and control these activities. Just like the government to reinvent the wheel at a time of reduced budgets.
Since Cessna can't sell enough of the Skycatchers to make it profitable, why don't they do something innovative and sell kits? It should reduce their liability. They already have everything to do it.
I'm not a pilot and don't own even an RC plane, but I have to tell you that your collection of stories (and the quality of them) is, for me, the most interesting e-mail I get.
I love your selection of things, which obviously relate to aviation but still cover a huge spectrum of topics and the discussions of them. Too bad you guys don't do all the news!
Keep it up,