This is my very first post here, so forgive me if this isn't the most appropriate place to share this.
I live in rural south GA, and have been tinkering with RC planes and homemade UAVs for a couple years now. My family is highly involved in farming and my primary interests in UAVs have been their use in precision ag. As both an enthusiast in modeling and UAVs I, like many of you, are finding the FAA's recent actions frustrating.
Let me be the first to say, that I thank God for the work that the FAA does and the fact that I and my family can fly commercially with an almost certain confidence that we are safe. I clearly understand the burdens the FAA face, and the fact that they are stretched as thin as they are. That said, the model other countries have displayed by implementing UAVs in the navigable airspace, proves that its not an unachievable goal.
The recent interpretation the FAA has released of the model aircraft rule has given many of us great concern "is this the mindset we can expect when the rules for commercial UAVs come about?"
I've done what was suggested and commented on regulations.gov etc, but I felt I ought to take the time to visit with my congressman's office to let them know my thoughts. Since my representative has an office here in my office building I walked down there yesterday afternoon and spoke with one of his aides. Interestingly enough the aide was aware of some of these issues due to the fact that he had a good friend who is a multi-rotor enthusiast. Although he was aware of some of the issues, he had never had anyone articulate for him the full scope of the issues. He friend was basically venting to him about the recent FAA's interpretation for model aircraft. The aide suggested I lay my thoughts out in a letter and he would pass it up the chain, I have no idea if it will do any good or if it will even make it in front of my congressmen's eyes, but I thought it wouldn't hurt.
Many of you understand that agriculture will be a huge benefactor of this technology, and incidentally enough agriculture in my region is a huge political contingency. Since nearly every grower I've ever shared the concepts of UAVs for precision ag with is highly interested and wants to know why they can't use this now. My thinking would be to make a concerted effort to educate the farmers and growers and then ask them to pressure their elected reps to in-turn stay in tune with the FAA. I, like most of you, do not believe this should be completely unregulated, however my fear is that the rules may prove to be so cumbersome that it will keep the small business person or farmer out of the market. So thats what I will make my mission for the next few months, to go around my region preaching the gospel of UAVs, with a healthy dose of "hey give your rep a call".
My letter to my rep is below
"The Honorable John Barrow
United States Congressman
2202 Rayburn Building
Washington DC 20515
Dear Representative Barrow,
My following comments are prompted by the FAA’s recent “interpretation for the special rule for model aircraft”. I will break these thoughts into 2 larger categories regarding what I feel to be a destructive mindset building within the FAA. The first category will be their intrusion into the RC aircraft hobby. The second will be regarding their forthcoming (Hopefully) regulations pertaining to the commercial use of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS).
Let me start off by giving a short introduction to myself and how I have come into this hobby and field of technology. My name is _________, I live in _______ GA and have been one of your constituents since your first election to congress in 2005. I am a graduate of ____________ University and am currently working as the GIS (Geographic Information System) Coordinator for __________. My family has farmed here in south GA since the 1850's, and my father has worked in the timber and forestry industry for 40 plus years. I have long had an interest in model aviation receiving as a gift 2 model planes at the age of 10. Although I did not participate in the hobby for many years since my youth, I picked it back up a couple of years ago. The Hobby of flying model aircraft is a source of much joy in my life and has proven to be somewhat of a relationship builder between me and my children and more recently, me and my father.
Category One the FAA and its intrusion into model aviation,
In 2012 Congress passed the “FAA modernization and reform act” a law which the record shows you and your GA colleagues in the Senate voted in favor of. In that law, congress in section 336, clearly made known that any forthcoming regulations for commercial UAS were not to apply to any aspect of the model aircraft hobby. It is clear that congress's intent was that this hobby and its industry, that has existed with a stellar safety record since the 1930s, should remain a self governed community. This exemption makes perfect sense, since this methodology has proven effective for decades and the FAA’s primary concern should be for the “navigable airspace” of our country. This “navigable airspace” was defined by the supreme court in US v. Causby as the upper reaches of the airspace, relegating the lower reaches to the domain of private landowners. Since it is currently, under most circumstances, prohibited for manned aircraft to fly below 500 ft unless landing or taking off, the hobby’s self guidance to remain below 400 ft should keep all its activities far outside the purview of the FAA.
In June the FAA released its interpretation of sect 336 of the 2012 legislation. This interpretation has proven worrisome for the model aviation community for several reasons.
1. it so narrowly defines what is considered a part of the hobby that it will make many of the companies who manufacture and sell the parts and supplies to the hobby disappear. For instance the language of the FAA’s interpretation would make it illegal for salespeople of model aircraft manufacturers to fly their products in a demonstration or airshow. Such limitations, would do nothing more than cause these good American companies that employ hundreds maybe thousands of individuals to leave this country or go out of business. This narrow view would also dis-allow farmers to attach a camera to their model and fly it over their own private property, to view the status of their crops, if that farm is a “commercial operation”. There are many other consequences to the FAA’s narrowing of the hobby, that I will not list here.
2. This interpretation claims that FPV (first person view) flying of aircraft is unsafe and should not be allowed. FPV is the flying of a model using an onboard camera while controlling the plane from the ground. It gives the operator the perspective of the plane and gives one the sense of flying. FPV flying is a practice that has been embraced by the model aviation community for many years now, and is recognized by the AMA (Academy of Model Aircraft) as a perfectly safe and legitimate practice if done so by following their clear guidelines. FPV is the fastest growing sector of the hobby and many new businesses have come about to service this pastime. FPV has sparked the interest of many young pilots and have brought new, younger faces to a hobby that has remained small and stagnant for many years. The experiences brought on by the experimentation with these systems can lead to careers in electronics, aviation, engineering or programming. If we are being told by the FAA that FPV is a danger, they should have the burden of presenting to us statistical data supporting such a claim. The FAA should not regulate something simply because they are ignorant of the technology, or it makes them uncomfortable.
3. The interpretation is worded in a manner that it would open the door to further intrusion by the FAA into the model aircraft hobby. If any future activities are deemed dangerous (mind you without any supporting data) the FAA could intervene and prohibit. If my model aircraft crashes, should an NTSB investigation be carried?
4. The FAA's interpretation will all but make it illegal for model aviators to fly within 5 miles of an airport. With current densities of airports in this country this could effectively eliminate the ability to fly in all but the most rural of areas.
Finally this new re-interpretation by the FAA of the 2012 law, clearly violates the intent of Congress which was to allow the model aviation sector the freedom they have enjoyed, safely, for nearly 80 years. Remember what we are talking about here, small balsa and foam models weighing less than 55 lbs, the vast majority of which weigh less than 5 lbs. Again I stress the belief that if these activities are so dangerous, the FAA should have the burden of proof and present us with data conclusively stating so. Manned aircraft have long been allowed activities far more dangerous to people and property, aerobatics, crop dusting, fire control, home built experimental aircraft, etc etc, a model aircraft could never pose such threats.
Category Two the FAA’s forthcoming rules for UAS.
One of the keystones of the 2012 legislation was to mandate that the FAA come up with a means to incorporate Unmanned Aerial Systems into the national airspace. With my background in GIS and my family’s background in timber and agriculture, it is clear to me that these technologies should be employed there. Technologies used in the RC hobby are easily translated to these industries to create SMALL unmanned aerial systems to perform needed tasks.
Farmers could use these small aircraft to survey their crops, monitoring their yields or their water and fertilizer needs, on a foot by foot basis, instead of a field by field basis. With the costs of such inputs so high and the environmental impacts of such chemicals a concern, the ability to apply these on a section of a field at a time, instead of the whole field, is both economical and “green”, two things most of GA’s farmers strive to be.
In the forestry business, these units can be used for many of the same applications mentioned above. They can also provide timber growers a means of measuring the volumes of their forests, increasing profits and maximizing the forest's health.
My concern in regards to the forthcoming regulations from the FAA, are as follows
1. The FAA has had years to wrap their arms around this technology, yet they have not, they continue to push back the date for a release, it is now late 2015. This procrastination does nothing more that retard an entire industry that could be creating jobs and benefiting individuals today. Currently several other countries around the world have implemented reasonable regulations that balance the safety of the public and the accessibility of the user with great success. Among these are Great Britain, Canada and Australia. I cannot fathom, why a country as advanced as we, a country that pioneered aviation and has been an innovating force behind it, cannot implement a system to allow small UAS users to legally operate.
2. If the above mentioned interpretation by the FAA is any indication of the agency's current mindset, I fear their forthcoming regulations will be so burdensome and capricious as to exclude small business owners. Small businesses that could be creating jobs, income and tax revenue. If the ethos of the FAA is so narrow, it will be very difficult for the average farmer or forester to use this technology, these are certainly two of the largest industries in the GA 12th district and 2 that I am most interested in working with.
3. Currently, to my knowledge, the only private entities represented on any rulemaking committees associated with these regs, are large legacy DOD vendors. Companies like Lockheed, Boeing, General Dynamics and Northrop Grumman. Companies who have a vested interest in keeping the small entrepreneur out of the market.
This is a technology in hand, that could be an engine for advancement and growth, by many individuals in your district. I simply bring these comments to your attention, because many of us striving to use this technology, feel our concerns are falling on deaf ears. You as a member of Congress are charged with the oversight of these executive bureaucracies, I think it is necessary for you to hear from those of us living with the effects of such organizations. To give you a sense of just how ridiculous the FAA’s oversight of such matters has become, please take note to this story, where one of your House colleagues is being investigated for hiring a photographer who used a small RC copter to film his wedding, I may be crazy here, but the threat of these small RC toys, do not in anyway pose the threat on the order of passenger aircraft colliding. I do not know what other paths we have for moving forward save for individuals such as myself, taking the time to let their elected representatives know how they feel. Much of the buzz and fear surrounding these topics have been ginned up by a sensational media, and I trust, as with most new technologies, the fear and the ignorance will subside and we as a nation will adopt them and excel with them. However I fear, in the meantime, we are woefully falling behind.