Like It or Not, Drone Licensing Is Coming

By Stephen Mann

What an outrageous proposal. How dare you propose drone hobbyists be licensed before they start flying?

This is the only way to save the hobby of personal drone flight. It’s the only way to protect the hobby from overreaching, confusing, conflicting and almost always illegal attempts by the government to regulate flight.

Licensing is going to happen. Just look at all the hysteria that surrounds every drone sighting. No sensation-seeking journalist or politician can pass that opportunity for grandstanding. This is why we should get ahead of them and propose reasonable licensing now before the politicians force very unreasonable licensing terms on us.

Ham radio is a good example of how this can work. Amateur Radio operators have been operating in an environment regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for decades using volunteer examiners (VE) to administer the tests for various Amateur Radio classes of licenses. 

The VE forwards the test materials to the FCC and, if the applicant passes, they receive their Amateur Radio license. VEs usually are members of ham radio clubs who also provide classes in radio theory and FCC rules. The FCC does not collect any fees for the Amateur Radio license, but the VE may charge a small fee for preparing and administering the test.

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Comment by Pedals2Paddles on August 21, 2015 at 10:39am

This is ridiculous on so many levels.  I'm not sure you're even a resident of earth if you think this is a good idea.

Ham radio is not a hobby that interests the general public. It is similar to what model aviation was before "drones" came on scene.  It has no appeal to to anyone but a select few who go through the trouble.  It is mostly old people and geeks (I'm one of them, so save it), much like what model aviation used to be.  The very nature of it makes it self-limiting and self-policing.  There is no massive hord of consumers trying to use it. And it has no commercial application.  The comparison to drones is meaningless.  Not even apples to oranges. More like apples to cheeseburgers.

Drones are mainstream consumer product with exponentially growing popularity across the globe in all walks of life and all ages. They're toys you can buy at any store.  It also has an equally explosive grown in commercial applications.  Basically, the exact opposite of ham radio.  Apples to cheeseburgers.

You propose we encourage the government to enact licensing for these 2lb plastic toys, but make them do it "our way".  And you think this will prevent the government from doing it their own way.  Seriously, are you on this planet?  Have you EVER seen the government do anything in an efficient and logical manner when it comes to licensing and regulation??  Especially for something that makes big headlines for politicians and big money for businesses.  What you propose is not reality.  The government doesn't work like that. If you even suggest that we would be open to the idea of licensing/registration, that will be THE END.  It will be licensed and regulated out of existence.  The lobbying groups and commercial organizations will take over.  The laws will end the hobby. Period.

There are already laws in place for hobby use of model aircraft. And in fact, that law specifically prohibits what you suggest for good reason.

Comment by Pedals2Paddles on August 21, 2015 at 10:40am

Also, your headline is misleading and wrong. You should probably change it since it is basically a fabrication, aka complete lie. This isn't buzzfeed.

Comment by Brendan Jacobs on August 21, 2015 at 10:53am

BuzzFeed headline? Huh? The columnist says in the first sentence of the third graph "Licensing is going to happen." How is the headline misleading?

Did you read the entire column? He uses the term "amateur legislators" a couple times and clearly states that the government will take things too far. That's his whole point. If drone hobbyists admit something has to be done and help the process, instead of deny, deny, deny any wrongdoing/potential dangers, then the government will come down hard.

He's not encouraging the government to do anything, he just knows it's going to happen. So why not band together in a positive way and try to salvage the hobby before the government shuts it down.

Most drone hobbyists fly responsibly, but the few bad apples out there will ruin it for everyone.

Comment by Pedals2Paddles on August 21, 2015 at 11:15am

I already answered that. Banding together to suggest "good licensing" is the equivalent of trying to pick up a turd from the clean end.  There is no such thing.  That's not how government works.  Doing what we can to prevent the notion of licensing is what is needed.  Not encouraging it.

There are already laws in place to deal with the bad apples. Making new laws instead of enforcing the laws doesn't change anything.  That's a politicians delusion because it gives them something to talk about rather than act on.

Comment by Jonathan Hair on August 21, 2015 at 11:25am

I tend to agree with Pedals here. Already plenty of laws that prevent the very behavior that the media is alleging is happening. A license doesn't change that, or improve it other than providing some meaningless card we carry around.

That said, I would support a tiered license system that required some sort of certification for flights beyond line of sight.

Comment by Brendan Jacobs on August 21, 2015 at 11:32am

"Alleging" that these incidents are happening is part of the problem, to me, Jonathan. So none of these incidents have happened, every one is being made up? Clearly the current "rules," "laws," "guidelines" or whatever they're called aren't doing enough to curtail reckless flying. You'll never stop ever knucklehead, but there's gotta be a better way to enforce things.

Comment by Jonathan Hair on August 21, 2015 at 11:35am

I think a very high percentage of the incidents in the news are made up, exaggerated, or mistaken. So no, it is not clear to me that the laws in place are failing.

Comment by Pedals2Paddles on August 21, 2015 at 12:07pm

Brendan.  Please listen carefully.  There are already laws on all of this. Those laws are not being adhered to by a small minority of users.  Those laws are not enforced when people break them. Writing new laws is not the solution to laws that aren't being enforced.  That just makes new laws that say the same thing that also won't be enforced.  It is no different than idiot politicians yammering about making new gun laws rather than actually enforcing the law that already exists.  It's what politicians do.  Talk rather than act.

Adding licenses and registrations does nothing but inhibit those of us that are already not breaking the law to begin with.  The people that plan to break the law are not going to register and license their 2lb plastic toy.  It's delusional.

And yes, the media blows everything way out of proportion.  Their a business that sells advertising rights.  And to get people to see the advertising in commercials and websites, they need flashy headlines.  Fact and logic are irrelevant.

Comment by Brendan Jacobs on August 21, 2015 at 12:19pm

I see what you're saying, and I'm not a fan of politicians, believe me. I like the UC Berkeley project developing a "license plate" of sorts.If you could track down a drone's operator based off the blinking pattern - or any other tracking system - maybe that would inhibit people from flying recklessly. Right now there's no way to connect a drone to its operator, right?

Comment by Gary McCray on August 21, 2015 at 12:28pm

And "The Sky is Falling!"

Actually, in some ways Brendan is right drone licensing is coming, just not all "drones".

Commercial drones are already being licensed and it is likely a lot more categories of commercial will be licensed as time goes on and the FAA figures out what is needed.

But hobby drones, rc planes, quadcopters, etc, I sure hope not and so far it doesn't look like they are planning on doing so.

But it would be a really good idea if all of us who actually do know what is safe and reasonable to do and what is not started telling the uninformed masses walking out of Walmart with their spiffy new "Phantom" what's what.

If anything is going to screw us up, that's it.




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