LA Times op-ed: Overturn RC rules and make UAV hobbyists get licenses!

Get ready for a lot of these sort of op-eds. Here's one in the LA Times from John Villasenor, a Brookings Institute fellow, who thinks the current FAA rules on RC have got to go. Extra points for anyone who can explain the logic of the bolded sentence below:

Although reasonable people can disagree on how long it would take terrorists to build or acquire weaponized drones that can be guided by video into a target, there's really no dispute that it is a question of when and not if. The day will come when such drones are available to almost anyone who wants them badly enough.

In fact, there is ample evidence that terrorist groups have already experimented with drones. As far back as the mid-1990s — practically ancient history in drone terms — the Japanese Aum Shinrikyo sect that carried out the sarin gas attack in the Tokyo subway reportedly considered drones. So too have Al Qaeda and the Colombian insurgent group FARC.

Nations with a record of close ties to terrorists are another concern. Iran unveiled a drone in August 2010 that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad managed to describe as an "ambassador of death" and a "message of peace and friendship" in the same sentence.

So what can we do to reduce the risk? One good place to start is the "model aircraft" provision in the new aviation law, which allows hobbyists to operate drones weighing up to 55 pounds with essentially no governmental oversight. The law allows recreational drones to be operated in accordance with "community-based" safety guidelines established by a "nationwide community-based organization." The inclusion of this language was a lobbying victory for model airplane enthusiasts. But is it really in the broader national interest?

It is not. One of the hallmarks of an effective national antiterrorism policy is consistency. The hobbyist exception is glaringly inconsistent with our overall approach to antiterrorism. By what logic, for example, do we prevent airline passengers from taking 8-ounce plastic water bottles through security checkpoints, while permitting anyone who so desires to operate a 50-pound, video-guided drone, no questions asked?

The overwhelming majority of the people in the model airplane and drone hobbyist community would never consider carrying out a terrorist attack. Yet the same could be said for the overwhelming majority of airline passengers, all of whom are subject to the same rules about what can be taken through airport security checkpoints.

Given the realities of the world we live in, it doesn't seem unreasonable to require all civilian U.S. operators of drones capable of carrying a significant payload to obtain a license. A useful model can be found in fishing licenses, which provide an inexpensive, non-burdensome way for government agencies to know who is fishing.

A licensing program obviously wouldn't eliminate the threat of drone terrorism. After all, terrorists won't necessarily feel compelled to get a license. But the federal government has a legitimate national security interest in monitoring domestic drone use. Today, its ability to do so is inadequate. A licensing program would help plug a critical gap in the government's knowledge regarding who should — and shouldn't — be operating drones.

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Comment by Tom in NOVA on March 26, 2012 at 9:24pm

LA Times....California....liberal opinions...nanny state...    do you need more?  

Where I live (temporarily), entrenched overpaid government bureaucrats following rules derived on after years of consensus based debates by agenda-based groups and clueless policy makers dictate the level of responsibility should be given to the individual citizen in society.

Comment by Ellison Chan on March 26, 2012 at 9:33pm

Same argument with guns.  People who are law abiding do not need to be regulated with licenses, and people who are going to perform illegal acts will not go and get a license.  There is no logic in his statement.

Comment by Tom in NOVA on March 26, 2012 at 9:33pm

Reminds me of the recent post here on an upcoming UAV convention that advocates the responsible use of drones  with a catchy sounding subtitle of "drones kill children".

Comment by Andrew Rabbitt on March 26, 2012 at 9:41pm

A licensing program obviously wouldn't eliminate the threat of drone terrorism. After all, terrorists won't necessarily feel compelled to get a license. But...

If there is one (sadly not fatal) flaw in his argument, it's this.  If regulation doesn't acheive what it's supposed to acheive, it should either be scrapped or not implemented in the first place!

Continuing with useless legislation and regulation that doesn't actually have the desired effect is why the West is so inefficient and cumbersome and why innovation has effectively gone 'underground' or at least down to the basement, garage.and/or garden shed.

When the Californian liberals and their ilk wake up to an Asian-dominated world economy, perhaps they'll get it then, but I fear they still won't.


Developer
Comment by Adam Rivera on March 26, 2012 at 10:15pm

This is a great idea. We can come up with a bloated federal agency to "oversee" registered RC hobbyists because the ones who register are the ones who will be committing acts of terror. My taxes aren't high enough and I would love to spend more money on useless bureaucracy. NOT!

If I was going to commit a crime, I wouldn't make sure to stop at a police station to get fingerprinted on the way.

This kind of bull shit makes me angry.

Comment by James masterman on March 26, 2012 at 10:28pm

A bit of training and certification may even improve the skills of the terrorist pilots! It certainly wouldn't stop them.

They need to focus on restricting the bits that make the drones a weapon (ie. the explosives, bombs, poison gas etc), not really the drone itself. This is what airport screening is looking for on airline passengers.

 

Nice analogy to fishing licences in the article. My fishing licence pays for restocking and R&D - will this licence fund DIY Drones :)

Comment by Jan Detlefsen on March 26, 2012 at 10:30pm

"Nations with a record of close ties to terrorists are another concern. Iran unveiled a drone in August 2010 that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad managed to describe as an "ambassador of death" and a "message of peace and friendship" in the same sentence."

just as a reality check, drone wars are already a reality.

http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2012/01/drone-war-return/

Comment by Greg Fletcher on March 26, 2012 at 10:46pm

I guess we all need to sharpen our sticks and crawl back in our caves. Or in my ancestors language.. glarp  splat nooodnik, arg.

Comment by MarcS on March 27, 2012 at 12:04am

Didn´t the 9/11 terrorists take flight training in regular flying shools?

There are so many past examples where registration or licensing did not prevent crimes...

The best protection is the community itself by giving obviously "bad" but not clever people a stop. The problem left are always bad and intelligent people which do not rely on help... But these will hopefully come to the conclusion that UAS are not good for crimes, anyway :-)

Comment by dudz on March 27, 2012 at 1:16am

Whats the next step back for the airborn RC hobby? Insurance and sky tax with sky speed cameras and air police 

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