3D Robotics

Politico: "FAA risks losing the drone war"


From Politico, a long piece arguing that the "FAA is often powerless to halt the growing drone swarm".



The Washington Nationals used a drone to photograph spring training. Real estate agents use them to show off sprawling properties. Martin Scorsese hired one to film a scene in “The Wolf of Wall Street.”

So where does this leave the Federal Aviation Administration, which insists that commercial drone use is illegal?

Way behind — and facing turbulence as drone use explodes.

Thanks to falling prices, spotty enforcement and the fact that it’s almost impossible to spot the devices being used, the FAA is often powerless to halt the growing drone swarm. Retailers freely sell the tiny planes, quadcopters and hexacopters for as little as a few hundred dollars, and entrepreneurs continually come up with creative uses like wedding photography and crop monitoring — along with delivering beer and dropping off dry-cleaning.

The result, observers and drone users warn, could be a Wild, Wild West in the nation’s skies. As small drone operators grow used to flying them without the FAA’s permission, they could become less inclined to obey any rules the agency puts in place. And with the cost of the technology continuing to drop, the drones could eventually become far too ubiquitous for the agency to police.

Meanwhile, the FAA is lagging in meeting a congressional mandate to allow commercial drones to share the skies legally.

“Most people want to comply with the FAA rules,” said Ted Ellett, a former FAA general counsel who is now a partner specializing in aviation at the law firm Hogan Levells. “But the more the FAA acts like a big daddy, behemoth government agency that is imposing excessive restrictions, the more the feeling of ‘I’m an American, they can’t tell me what to do’ kicks in. And that’s a real danger for the FAA.”

Plenty of drone users are going ahead without waiting for the agency.

“A lot of our members would like to start businesses using this technology,” said Timothy Reuter, the founder of the Drone User Group Network in Washington. “Some of them are waiting for the regulations to open up. Others, honestly, aren’t.”


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  • The 51% rule, no commercial activity etc is specifically to do with Experimental-Amateur Built class aircraft.  E-AB isn't the sum total of the experimental class by any stretch.  The space shuttle flew as an experimental aircraft.  Pre-certification aircraft prototypes are flown under experimental class rules.

    In my opinion, the agri-drone business is open for people to sell well-priced and reliable equipment to early-adopting farmers who want to see what they can do.

  • I completely agree, I was more so referring to the current COA requirements. Currently a UAS needs an experimental COA and then is WAIVERED to fly commercially, if it ever gets that far... (or at least that's how It was explained to me by our regional supervisor). If thos is true, then it does not require an A&P.

    I agree the FAA tends to go the safest route, however they also have to bend and conform to the needs of the market. The FAA WILL NOT miss the UAS boom, and of they do, it won't last long. The Experimental/homebuilt world is often under scrutiny, however the FAA see's the necessity to come up with reasonable regulations.
  • Well said jg.

  • If the FAA decides UAS are experimental in nature, there can be no commercial operations with them.  That is part of the catch with and experimental certificate.  Another issue with an "experimental" certificated UAS is they can come fully assembled.  As such the operator is no longer the manufacturer and cannot do any maintenance on them.  To quailify to do your own maintenance, as you probably know, one has the manufacture 51% of the aircraft.  As soon as someone or some entity pays for the service the FAA gets heavily involved.  The FAA does not and will not care if you decide to do stupid stuff, take risks, crash, or get hurt.  The FAA only cares when your actions affect someone in the general public.  When an aircraft is involved in commercail operations the FAA is tasked with ensuring the safety of not only the passengers, but also any people and property on the ground.  The whole issue is a complicated mess.  And when issues like this arise historically the FAA goes the safest route until the technology proves its safety record.  That could and most likely mean very heavy regulation at the start, and as the uses and safety record start form the regulations may relax.  However I do agree that some type of regulation is needed.  Otherwise it will be a swarm of UAV flying everywhere, accidents happening, and a complete overly harsh system where it becomes almost unaffordable and impossible for a small company to operate with any hope of turning a profit. 

  • According to this site http://dronelawjournal.com/ the FAA lack legal authority to regulate Radio controlled Model Aircraft by  "Under Section 336 of the FMRA of 2012, Congress has dictated that the FAA will not be permitted to “promulgate any rule or regulation regarding a model aircraft.” "

            he makes some cogent points and most importantly he IS a lawyer(or claims to be)


  • Justin,

    I think you may have misunderstood my comments. I was stating facts as conveyed to me directly by someone involved in the industry as a small manufacturer trying to operate legally. I did not say I wanted nor expected this to be a requirement in the final rule. The opposite would be true. I do not believe this will be the rule for under 55 lb.class sUAS. The FAA relented on this requirement with this business, but it does indicate the current approach the FAA has to the sUAS industry. They are applying the only set of rules they have, that of manned aviation and certified aircraft. The FAA is obviously overwhelmed with the regulatory task at hand.

    My perspective is as a commercial pilot (40 years) and hobbyist for more years than that. I am actively engaged in the sUAS industry as an educator and as an entrepreneur wanting to start an agriculture related sUAS business. Both my adult sons are employed in the UAS industry, one as an aero engineer and the other as an operator (1300 lb. UAS) with more than 1000 hours UAS flight time. We discuss sUAS issues regularly. I attend several industry conferences every year and collaborate with other educators and stakeholders monthly about the state of the industry. I have spoken directly with an FAA regional director about sUAS issues. I do have some insight into the state of the industry and where it is headed. My reason for posting here is to support the DIY sUAS entrepreneur and share my experiences in the sUAS field, not be the bearer of doom and gloom. What I am saying is the serious businessman will prepare himself. He will prepare for the most stringent regulations and hope for reasonable regulations with which we can all live and prosper. To do less risks getting shut out of the future of the commercial sUAS industry, or go outlaw.

    No doubt you are aware of the COA process for public institutions. Currently a COA is the only way to operate in the NAS. The requirement for an operator in a COA is a private pilot license and Class II medical. An observer must be present. The observer does not have to have a PPL but must also have a Class II medical.

    According to FAA regulations, an experimental aircraft cannot be operated for commercial purposes. I have had that discussion too.

    I’m not trying to destroy dreams here. I am simply saying prepare, prepare, prepare if you intend to have a serious and viable business in the sUAS space. Me personally, I had rather be over qualified and able to take my business to whatever level I choose than be a renegade and hope I don’t get caught by the long arm of the FAA.

  • JG.... I believe in some way that story was misconstrued. There is no way the FAA would be THAT crazy (yes they are... but at the same time they obviously allow full scale kit planes to fly in NAS, these are hand made.... and do not require any of the aforementioned, OR an A&P mechanic on hand).

    In FACT: the FAA regards to UAV's as experimental aircraft, requiring them to receive a COA as a UAS ina  subcategory of Experimental, this means they DO NOT require an A&P...

    More for the COA process;



    Please, lets not spread rumors... There is NO way  (even the FAA) would make it so idiotic that one would require an A&P to change a prop... This isn't even needed in full scale homebuilt aircraft.

  • When the FAA says you will need an a&p to change the prop on a hobby grade and size UAV it clearly shows they have no concept of what is out there.  A large UAS similar in performance and size as a full scale light aircraft sure.  But to have the same regulation on small UAS is crazy.  That would mean every motor, prop, prop nut etc. would need to be certified, tracked, tested, documentation of torques, damage standards, repair procedures and the list goes on.  They are simply trying to use the approach in what the standard is now in aviation.  That simply isn't practical or enforceable for a $2.00 propellor!  Aviation has a governing international body called ICAO.  Almost every country in the world abides by it.  If you don't you can't fly into abiding countries.  The drone rules should not be much different anywhere in the world you fly.  Just like the aviation operators now, there should be either a branch of ICAO for unmanned craft, or another organization with the same purpose. 

  • Dennis, I strongly disagree. Although the FAA has some overbearing properties, you couldn't be more wrong in regards to an A&P. 

    Most likely what will happen is that UAS will fall under a subcategory of LSA. Most light sport aircraft are experimental allowing their owner to perform maintenance, structural, and any other repair. (as opposed to certified aircraft which can only be maintained by an A&P) This would be quite easy to get around. (for example, almost all airframes are in the form of an ARF or Kit. The amount of building an ARF is similar to a quick build kit of common full scale kit-planes. Yes, there are lengthy builds, but if you pay substantially more you can get a quick-build kit.)

    In my own opinion, including full scale PP and Instrument flight experience, I personally think the FAA will break UAS down into size and altitude restrictions. These would be similar to sport aircraft and experimental aircraft. These will not suite everyone, and there will still be law/rule breakers. However, if they provide a reasonable means of doing so legally, I think the majority of us will. For example, if there was no speed limit, we would all speed, because there is some of us outright break the law, some of us stretch it, and some of us conform to it.

    IMHO the safest route would be to say small (<1.5m) airframes remain under 500ft AGL in only class G airspace. Medium airframes (<3m, <15kg MTOW) can operate under 500 AGL with no strobe, and ~500 and up to ~2000 with a 1500+ lumen white strobe under all conditions (night, stormy, day, dusk, dawn, etc...) 2000-3500 with transponder, all these restrictions in Class E and G only. Large (3m+, or 15kg+ MTOW) Airframes would be allowed up to ~10k AGL with active transponder and any future awareness and/or avoidance methods (IE see and avoid, or transmitted signal to other aircraft...). They CAN land in Class D with radio identification (calling out pattern legs, type of aircraft, including aircraft designator, and identifying UAS operation), transponder, awareness measures, as well as future see and avoid systems. LARGE UAS operators must have at least an LSA rating, or a UAS specific rating. (Both UAS as well as Light sort does not (or should not, for UAS) require an annual medical)

    This is just my opinion coming from a full scale perspective.

  • the link above to the article doesn't work for me -  this one does....



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