FAA To Appeal Ruling About Its Lack Of Mandate Over Commercial Drones

from the the-tacocopter-may-be-grounded-yet-again dept

Late last week, we wrote about an NTSB ruling that said the FAA has no mandate over commercial drones. Apparently, the FAA will not take this attack on its perceived powers lying down, and has announced that it will file an appeal, asking the full NTSB board to review. Along with this, comes the usual hyperbole from the FAA about how if this ruling isn’t stayed, it “could impact the safe operation of the national airspace system and the safety of people and property on the ground.” While it may make sense for there to be some clear rules for how these things work, frankly the fact that commercial drone use has been totally grounded until now while a bunch of bureaucrats battle it out seems like a complete waste of time when useful experiments and innovation could be progressing.

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Comments on “FAA To Appeal Ruling About Its Lack Of Mandate Over Commercial Drones”

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22 Comments
ethorad (profile) says:

I can see their point. Currently they have control over everything (man made) that happens at 35,000 feet so can minimise accidents.

However, if they have no control over drones they lose that – someone could theoretically remote pilot a 747 full of passengers without coming into the FAA control.

Perhaps instead of delineating their control based on whether the pilot is on board, perhaps a better line would be based on the cargo (passengers/livestock, or tacos), the height (in the commercial jet highway, or 100 feet over a football field), size, being flown over urban areas, etc.

Something like anything with people/animals on board or anything flown over 1000 feet? Should give them the ability to maintain passenger airspace safety, while allowing low flying freeform innovation (and avoiding people being arrested for flying unsanctioned paper aeroplanes)

Chris-Mouse (profile) says:

The FAA could also go with control based on aircraft take off weight. Aircraft large enough to do serious harm when they hit the ground would be under their control. Set the weight limit well below the weight of a person, and you’ve got all manned aircraft covered automatically. Then all you need to add are restrictions around airports, and maximum altitude limits for uncontrolled aircraft that are below the existing minimum altitude limits for controlled aircraft.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Then all you need to add are restrictions around airports, and maximum altitude limits for uncontrolled aircraft that are below the existing minimum altitude limits for controlled aircraft.

They already have this ability, altitude and nearness to airports etc. defines controlled airspace and any vehicle entering this space needs air traffic permission. Size and whether the vehicle is manned or not is irrelevant, so model rockets and balloons to the stratospheres need flight permission. This can be granted on a location and time window basis, so that they can keep other vehicles away from such launches.

JeffR says:

Re: Re:

The larger concern to me, as a pilot, is that all drones operating in the airspace that I’m flying in have some means to “see and avoid” other traffic.

A four to seven pound bird can do significant damage to even large planes. A flock of such birds caused the incident that led a 737 to ditch into the Hudson river so famously a few years back.

Hitting a drone that a pilot has virtually no chance to see because of it’s size at 200+ miles an hour combined speed isn’t going to be pretty or fun for a light aircraft. That drone has to also have a means to look for and attempt to avoid other aircraft in flight.

Anonymous Coward says:

Based upon the quality of their product, it is probably a bad idea for fast food joints to fly drones around town making deliveries. I doubt other delivery services would do much better and other than bragging rights, why would they even attempt it. Not even considering the cost of liability insurance, I doubt there are any real savings to be had.

It might make sense for local weather and traffic reporting to operate several drones rather than helicopters.

Christopher Best (profile) says:

The FAA Is Right

I worked for several years with the FAA on studying the use of UAS in the National Airspace System, primarily by the DoD. The reason the FAA is “dragging its feet” on this is because every experiment we ran showed that it’s simply NOT SAFE. The DoD keeps paying for experiments, though, hoping that some tweak will improve the results… Or that we’ll give up due to exhaustion, I guess?

If the DoD and FAA can’t manage to do it safely, I’m not sure how a commercial operation is going to do a better job…

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Re: The FAA Is Right

How exactly is it not safe?

5kg+ lumps of stuff flying around under the conbtrol of Microsoft software- what could possibly go wrong?

Seriously though – these things do need to be regulated somehow.
Model aircraft generally operate under an exemption that has conditions attached.
In most countries these conditions are typically:

1. No flying over people or buildings.

2. No flight by models >5kg above 400ft.

3. No flight beyond the visual range of the operator.

4. Old style radio control to be available as a backup at all times. WITH A COMPETANT PILOT.

Now these conditions pretty much eliminate the usefulness of such models for commercial purposes.

Recent incidents involving model aircraft using “drone technology” of which I am aware only serve to reinforce the view that commercial use is not practical at present.

The point is not that it cannot be done (after all the Spirit of Butts Farm flew across the atlantic over 10 years ago) but that it is not yet safe over people in non-expert hands.

Christopher Best (profile) says:

Re: Re: The FAA Is Right

As I said, the DoD can’t get it right, even when they control the entire airspace.

A UAS cannot meet the requirements, as they are currently written, to operate in the NAS. Either we’re going to have to loosen the requirements or come to accept this is a bad idea. If we decide to loosen the requirements, then I’m moving to the Marianas Trench or something…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: The FAA Is Right

The way to learn to get better control over drones, and what the problems of their use is, is to allow them to fly in uncontrolled airspace, and away from built up areas. Without more experience of drone use in relatively safe areas any regulation will be based on theory, and probably not deal with the actual problems.

Christopher Best (profile) says:

Re: Re: The FAA Is Right

The way to learn to get better control over drones, and what the problems of their use is, is to allow them to fly in uncontrolled airspace, and away from built up areas. Without more experience of drone use in relatively safe areas any regulation will be based on theory, and probably not deal with the actual problems.

And what do you think I meant when I said “I worked for several years with the FAA on studying the use of UAS in the National Airspace System”? That we sat around in a room and thought about what could possibly go wrong?

There are multiple active studies right now, operating in both simulated environments and “live” tests in controlled airspace. I worked on the simulators, myself, and I can assure you they’re more than realistic enough to study the problem. Actually, if anything, the problem with the simulations were that they provided the UAS pilots with entirely TOO MUCH information compared to what would actually be available in the field. And it STILL resulted in unsafe operations.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: The FAA Is Right

“live” tests in controlled airspace.

I was talking about uncontrolled air space. There is a huge difference between flying larger drones for large area surveillance, which often means entering controlled air space, and flying a small drone at low altitude over the corn fields and the like. These are two very different uses of drones.

Christopher Best (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 The FAA Is Right

Okay, why?

I’m serious.

What is the expected benefit? And why is it worth the risk? And yes, there is a significant risk: Loss-of-Control incidents are still very common in UAS. Most of the larger platforms have automated “Lost Link” procedures they follow in such circumstance, but those don’t always work–and often aren’t very conducive to safety of others. Generally they’re intended to make re-acquisition by the base station easier under the assumption they’re operating in an area where they don’t have to worry about hitting anything “friendly”.

All of this is really moot, though. There are already UAS operating in the NAS under an individual Certificate of Agreement, including ones being used by the FAA primarily to study the safety problems. What benefit is there to flying them in even less realistic scenarios?

JBDragon says:

Re: The FAA Is Right

That’s because you think Government can actually do things when they can’t!!! They can’t waste a lot of money is mostly all Government can do. Get Government out of the way and the Private Industry will figure it out. They’ll have to get it right or else be sued to crashing on top of someone. No company in their right mind will just throw up any old drone and cross their fingers and hope it all goes right. Let any company run their own small trials out in far less crowded area’s. Work out all the bugs and other kinks. Come out with some Industry standard so you don’t have them crashing into each other from one company to another.

There is no way, be some mad rush to start flying these things everywhere just because the FAA has zero power.

Christopher Best (profile) says:

Re: Re: The FAA Is Right

That’s because you think Government can actually do things when they can’t!!!

No, I know the FAA does a damn fine job of safely managing the NAS.

They’ll have to get it right or else be sued to crashing on top of someone.

That doesn’t stop Taser, or any of the other contractors that supply equipment to LEOs and Military. They just get indemnification.

No company in their right mind will just throw up any old drone and cross their fingers and hope it all goes right.

Ehhhh… You should look into the safety record of currently operating UAS, and how often birds that cost tens of millions of dollars get smashed into the ground/ocean due to pilot error… (Nevermind the shockingly bad quality of some of them).

Let any company run their own small trials out in far less crowded area’s. Work out all the bugs and other kinks. Come out with some Industry standard so you don’t have them crashing into each other from one company to another.

No. Just… No. This isn’t even a matter of theory. What you’re describing is civil aviation in the first half of the 20th century. We know from experience IT DOESN’T WORK. The Federal Aviation Act was passed because of the failure of the exact sort of approach you’re describing: “Well, let everyone do their own thing, no one has to be in charge, I’m sure they’ll all try very hard not to hurt each other.”

There is no way, be some mad rush to start flying these things everywhere just because the FAA has zero power.

You don’t know how wrong you are. The DoD is desperate (for reasons I still don’t understand) to fly UAS in the NAS. So is every two-bit, tin-pot Sheriff and Chief of Police in the US, who have apparently decided that having assault teams and armored vehicles isn’t compensating enough for their manhood deficiency and so now they need remotely piloted spy cams. And between them are all the military contractors, rubbing their hands gleefully together with dollar signs in their eyes. You can’t comprehend how quickly the FAA losing authority over this would be taken advantage of.

JBDragon says:

Re: The FAA Is Right

That’s because you think Government can actually do things when they can’t!!! They can’t waste a lot of money is mostly all Government can do. Get Government out of the way and the Private Industry will figure it out. They’ll have to get it right or else be sued to crashing on top of someone. No company in their right mind will just throw up any old drone and cross their fingers and hope it all goes right. Let any company run their own small trials out in far less crowded area’s. Work out all the bugs and other kinks. Come out with some Industry standard so you don’t have them crashing into each other from one company to another.

There is no way, be some mad rush to start flying these things everywhere just because the FAA has zero power.

Pragmatic says:

Re: Re: The FAA Is Right

You don’t live in the real world, do you? Christopher knows Best. Go and find citations and examples of your worldview in action instead of simply bashing what you don’t understand. Oh, and if you want to know who the government is, go look in a mirror. We live in a democratic system, remember.

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