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.

Views: 3752

Comment by Gary Mortimer on March 28, 2012 at 12:23am

Yep, perhaps they should form a union.

Comment by R. D. Starwalt on March 28, 2012 at 4:44am

Ooo, ooo! I call dibs and copyright on the phrase "DRONE POLICE".

I can see it now, ball caps, t-shirts,mouse pads, screen savers.

How about a screen play? (I wonder if Will Smith is available?)

"D.P" is better than 'Federal Drone Agency" - that is taken over by the Broccoli Police already.

Mabye "D.P." would be taken out of context?

If such legislation is enacted, we would all be getting it double.

It would then stand for 'Double Price" which is the only thing that occurs in a market when silly laws are created. Of course half the doubled price would go to the treasury of the government. Cha-ching!

It is clear the article has nothing to do with national security but it is another proposed revenue generation tool wrapped in the guise of protecting us.

The genie has been out of the bottle for years, licensing legitimate operators of the tech won't stop any nut case with an agenda.

Comment by Art on March 28, 2012 at 5:07am

"A licensing program obviously wouldn't eliminate the threat of drone terrorism."

Ok then, why would we need licensing at all?

"But the federal government has a legitimate national security interest in monitoring domestic drone use."

For what purpose, since we already established that it doesn't eliminate (or even reduce) the threat of terrorism?  Fishing license analogy doesn't really stand either.  A state charges you to fish or hunt so they can pay for "managing" the wildlife. They don't keep tabs on who exactly is fishing or hunting, checking their backgrounds and determining if this person is really safe to trust him/her with a fishing rod An equal comparison would be a proposal to license people who ride bicycles.  After all, they can strap explosives to their bikes and drive it into a Walmart.

It is really sad to see the left worshiping the almighty government which can save us from any and all calamities if we only surrender our lives to it.

Comment by Rory Paul on March 28, 2012 at 6:36am

The problem is that it is people like John Villasenor that help form public opinion and policy. He has found a drum to beat and will probably continue to do so as long as it serves his career goals.

Comment by JD on March 28, 2012 at 8:25am

I agree that there needs to be different degrees and levels of licensing or UAVs.  Here's how I see it.  If you are operating very large UAV over urban areas above 400ft agl.  Sure that makes sense.  If you are planning or want operate UAV in and around airport space yea a license make sense.   But for the 99% of us who have very small aircraft... requiring us to get a license is like requiring a bicyclist to have a drivers license.

Bicyclist know its not safe and against the law to ride your bike on the interstate... So 99% of bicyclist don't ride on the interstate.  If you want to ride on the interstate you need a motorcycle and need a special license.

The same should hold true for UAV operators...  Its just that simple.   If you have the bicycle equivalent of a drone, no special license should be required... If you want to play with big stuff in and over heavily populated areas in and around other maned aircraft then sure its the right thing to do.   A blanket licensing approach would be way overkill.

Comment by Bruce Jones on March 28, 2012 at 10:44am

Wow @JD - somebody who actually makes good sense in this discussion!

To be honest, I'm much more nervous about my equipment getting out of control and falling from 200 feet into a busy street maybe crashing through the window of a car killing the driver and creating a disaster.  Sign me up for sensible, livable, low-overhead, no-beaucracy, clearly articulated laws.  

Comment by Geoffrey L. Barrows on March 28, 2012 at 1:08pm

Mr. Villasenor is out of touch with the demand for tacos...

More seriously, perhaps the best counter to this fear-mongering is to promote the image of cute harmless drones doing neat stuff. It is better for the collective croc-brain of the public to associate "drones" with cute quads playing musical instruments than a crazed "terrist" flying a drone into a building. Now, how to get through the message that a 55lb drone weighs about 1/20000 as much as a fully loaded 747...

Comment by Dan Neault on March 28, 2012 at 5:13pm

Here an idea, make people get a license in order to board a 747.

That way by Johns logic the sky's will be safe, because only people with a license can ever get on a large jet and therefore the problem with hijacking is solved


Can I get a fellowship now ???

Comment by Alicia Paterson on March 28, 2012 at 11:34pm

He makes a good point though - it is just too easy to turn a drone into a weapon.

While I think of it we best get rid of cars too..history tells us they are easily weaponised!

Hmmm, all kinds of bags as well come to think of it - they too can carry a concealed bomb. Hell even clothes can mask a concealed weapon.

Probably best if as Greg says...we all just shun our clothes and retreat back into our caves. That'll teach the terrorists!

Comment by Patrick Egan on March 29, 2012 at 7:46am

There are no provisions for flying autonomous aircraft, or any RPA beyond VLOS. They only way this deal is going to work for the FAA is to really clamp down on RC flying. The scenarios you guys lay out are going to be beyond what is legal. The hobby is in danger of being outside of Federal regulations.   


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