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 John Bond on March 27, 2012 at 12:16pm

I got a good laugh reading that article.  Seems more appropriate for the Onion than the LA Times.

The guy must have decided a few years ago that "drones" would be a good way to get attention.  Here's a recent interview he did -

One of the things he mentioned was teenage boys using model aircraft to spy through bedroom windows.  Never mind the actual technical difficulties of doing this unnoticed - and at the "right" time.  Just getting the idea out there will rile up the Soccer Moms.  When your audience knows even less about a subject than you do you've got an advantage.  If there's any logic in his article it would be self promotion.  It's certainly not logical taken at face value.

He states that licensing model aircraft wouldn't stop terrorists, but we need to do it anyway because?  He doesn't give a reason other than to imply it will help "somehow".

Let's see how this will work.  A few billion dollars more to the FAA so they can set up a control system for model aircraft similar to the current manned one.  Then we'll all be safe, right?  That great FAA system didn't stop a teenage boy from flying a Cessna into the Bank of America building in Tampa

It didn't stop a guy from flying a plane into the IRS building in Austin,2933,586581,00.html

Large bureaucracies don't stop these events, they are just fairly rare because so few people actually want to carry them out.

Another thing he mentioned in the NPR interview concerning the idea of drones being used by terrorists was that "...honestly it keeps me up at night."  Well instead of spending millions or perhaps billions of dollars on some licensing system that he admits won't stop terrorists we might be better off with him spending a few thousand dollars on a psychiatrist.  At least this way he'll have a chance to sleep better.

Comment by Cliff-E on March 27, 2012 at 12:34pm

Guy believes in no regulation. We know his politics at this point:

a. In his world, no regs, means no justification revenue, which means licensing! Profit off of fear.

b. Licensing typically works for things that don't change (Guns still work the same as 200yrs ago, cars, pretty much the same the last 40 yrs)--technology is change.

c. Having worked intel, terrorists leaders are creative people. He needs to face the truth, that you can't stop creativity (it's not good nor bad). But from that world the current status quo for "prevention" of terrorism is track everyone else--it's a process of elimination strategy, which is a red herring.

This guy expects everyone in the family to be flying drones in the front yard. Not likely. Drones are just like cars, same incidents can happen--except cars you need a license and R/C you have a set of rules. And obviously there are more car accidents. Why doesn't this guy start charging Google and their UGV for possible car explosion acts? That's got more "potential" for damage...

Comment by Mathew krawczun on March 27, 2012 at 12:58pm

I'm sorry but what you guys are saying is just as stupid as what this op-ed said.


honestly do you guys know how nuts you all sound in these posts?


I agree the idea that regulations stops Criminals is fear mongering nonsense at its best, but no more than your "their coming to take my GUNS drones". This isn't black and white, one extreme is just as bad as the other, no rules is just as bad as too many. I know we hate it but also know there will be and need to be rules the thing is these rules need to be made with logic and in the best interests of everyone and not out of fear and the interests of a few.


Licenses exist to make sure who ever gets one is both physically and mentally capable to use it right. as well as when things go wrong (willfully or not) we can track things back to them which stops a far greater threat to any country then some odd terrorist group . 


the average Joe idiot who thinks "it will never happen to them" and there are many showcases to how well licenses work this way.



all of the hit and runs caught because of the government registered license plates.


Drunk drivers and yes the elderly having their licenses taken away because they're no longer not safe behind the wheel.


making sure a contractor pays when their corner cutting ways take people’s lives.


in the end this or anything else can't stop bad things from happening but it can and already has sure help make sure the right person pays for what they did wrong. is it a hassle yes but if doing the right thing was easy there would be no war, pollution or hate in the world.


get over yourselves and leave the BS redirect at the door so we cam make sure when the rules are writen they're writen fairly and with everyone best interest.

Comment by Dustin on March 27, 2012 at 1:41pm

Mathew -- Are you listening to yourself?  No one said rules don't have a purpose... just that gov't doesn't have to regulate everything.  The people who are trying to add unreasonable licensing to RC / UAV aren't doing it to make the activity safer.  They are doing it try to keep terrorists from using UAVs to hurt people.  Regulating or Licensing UAVs won't prevent this.  Wake up.

Comment by Rob_Lefebvre on March 27, 2012 at 2:00pm

Mathew, by the same logic, the government should regulate bicycles for children.  Require children to pass licensing tests, carry insurance, and plate their bikes.

Where does regulation stop?

Maybe toilet paper use should be regulated.  You have to buy a TP license in order to pay for inspectors who will go around and make sure people are using TP properly, and not wasting it.

Some people seem to think "if it exists, it must be regulated".

I'm all for regulation if it serves a purpose.  But until that purpose is justified, don't regulate just for the sake of regulation.

Comment by Andrew Rabbitt on March 27, 2012 at 4:01pm

Most people who, like Matthew believe that regulatory systems are there to protect the public have usually never had to make the system work for them.  When they are forced to, through accidents and various circumstances, the experience is usually a bitter one and leaves the citizen feeling a little cynical about the role of government.

Make no mistake, regulation is put in place with the best of intentions, but what it generates is a self-serving bureaucracy that becomes a millstone around society's neck.  And because everyone is 'thinking of the children' noone has the guts to put a metaphorical bullet in its head.

Most people 'obey' the rules and regulations by default and because it's customary and usually a socially beneficial to do so - not because there's a policeman waiting in the wings to write you a ticket or 'cuff you and bundle you into the slammer.  Those that don't are probably borderline sociopaths anyway and do the rules stop them?

Regulation should come from within and government regulation should be resisted at all levels, because once it's in place, the rot has set in and its downhill from there...

Comment by Tom in NOVA on March 27, 2012 at 4:14pm


Some people feel more comfortable in a nanny state. You live in the illusion that you are protected from your fellow citizens many of whom assumed to be cazy or at least irresponsbile, and you assume that government will take care of you.

@ Matthew - assuming you live in a free country, you have every right to feel comforted and surronded by rules set by people who know it better than you what keeps people safe. At the end, the people decide who they want to make their rules. It's called "voting" in the civilized part of the world.  So it's all good...

Comment by Rob_Lefebvre on March 27, 2012 at 6:15pm

Tom, yes voting is a privilege we enjoy.

As long as you can find the polling station. ;)

Comment by Gary Mortimer on March 27, 2012 at 11:49pm

Laws are coming ASTM F-38, taking community based advice from AV is going to write the airworthy standard that the FAA use.

No need to bicker here about frankly a side issue.

Join RCAPA or form your own community based organisation and petition ASTM and also the FAA to get onto ARC 2.0

None of this is a shock, its been travelling down the tracks for at least seven years now and people have huffed and puffed all along not believing its coming. 

We are moving towards the end game now, still not quickly but its closer. 

Get ready to shout at the NPRM and be ignored because your voice was not part of a community based organisation.

Comment by Jack Crossfire on March 28, 2012 at 12:20am

Aerial photography workers in job saving mode again.


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