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New FAA drone rule is a giant middle finger to aviation hobbyists, Ars Technica

New FAA drone rule is a giant middle finger to aviation hobbyists, Ars Technica

      NPRM –


Public comments are open until : pm on Monday.



Stuart O’Sullivan

“These regulations could kill a hobby I love,” wrote Virginian Irby Allen Jr. in a comment last week. “RC aviation has brought my family together and if these regulations are enacted we will no longer be able to fly nor be able to afford the hobby.”

The new regulations probably wouldn’t kill the hobby of flying radio-controlled airplanes outright, but it could do a lot of damage. Owners of existing drones and model airplanes would face new restrictions on when and where they could be used. The regulations could effectively destroy the market for kit aircraft and custom-designed drones by shifting large financial and paperwork burdens on the shoulders of consumers.

“I think it’s going to be harmful to the community and harmful to the growth of the UAS industry,” said Greg Reverdiau, co-founder of the Pilot Institute, in a Friday phone interview. He wrote a point-by-point critique of the FAA proposal that has circulated widely among aviation hobbyists.

To address these concerns, the new FAA rule would require all new drones weighing more than 0. pounds to connect over the Internet to one of several location-tracking databases (still to be developed by private vendors) and provide real-time updates on their location. That would enable the FAA or law enforcement agencies to see, at a glance, which registered drones are in any particular area.

But critics say the rules impose massive costs on thousands of law-abiding Americans who have been quietly flying model airplanes, quad -copters, and other small unmanned aircraft for years — and in many cases decades.

The rules require that the drone itself have an Internet connection. That will instantly render many existing drones obsolete, forcing hobbyists to upgrade or discard them. And it will also make it significantly more expensive to own a drone, since you’ll need to sign up for a data plan for each device you own. A hobby that previously had near-zero operating costs might suddenly cost $ (per month — per aircraft.)

In many cases, it may not even be possible for people to upgrade their existing aircraft to the new standard. The FAA rule states that a compliant drone needs to have a serial number that was issued by the device’s manufacturer in compliance with the new rules. Yet many RC aircraft are built by small companies who never intended to get into the commercial drone business. They might not have the technical resources to comply with the new standards or the legal resources to get FAA approval.

Critics say this approach is overkill. DJI, the leading dronemaker, opposes the FAA proposal . The company points out that it has already implemented a drone identification technology for its own drones that is based on sending out radio signals from the drone. Law enforcement agencies can buy hardware that receives these broadcasts and shows which DJI drones are nearby.

DJI argues that this approach is simpler, cheaper, and less intrusive than an alway-on Internet connection. In the view of DJI — and other opponents of the FAA’s approach — it would be better for the FAA to mandate the development of an industry-standard version of DJI’s technology, rather than forcing every drone to get an Internet connection.

FAA expects homebuilt aircraft to be “phased out”

Next, a hobbyist would have to submit paperwork to the FAA explaining how their drone works and demonstrating that it meets all the requirements of the new regulations. You might need to hire a lawyer before you can fly a model aircraft you design yourself.

This approach seems like a terrible fit for do-it-yourself aircraft builders. California drone hobbyist Anatoly Vizitiu explained the issue in a


This do-it-yourself approach runs directly counter to the FAA’s vision, in which every drone has a single manufacturer who takes care of regulatory compliance.

Apparently anticipating a backlash, the FAA does offer a workaround for people with existing or custom-built aircraft: special FAA- designated areas where people could fly non-compliant aircraft. These would be run by “community-based organizations” —most likely existing model airplane clubs that already operate fields for hobbyists to fly their aircraft. These clubs would have a one-year window to apply to the FAA for permission to run one of these sites. At the end of the year, the FAA would publish a list of approved sites, and anyone who wants to fly a non-compliant aircraft would need to travel to one of the sites.

But the FAA makes clear that it views this arrangement as a temporary expedient:

– month period , no new applications for FAA-recognized identification areas would be accepted. After that date, the number of FAA-recognized identification areas could therefore only remain the same or decrease. Over time, the FAA anticipates that most UAS without remote identification will reach the end of their useful lives or be phased out. As these numbers dwindle, and as compliance with remote identification requirements becomes cheaper and easier, the number of UAS that need to operate only at FAA-recognized identification areas would likely drop significantly.

Significantly, the FAA does not appear to envision people continuing to design and build their own aircraft after the rules go into effect — even if they’re only flown in special FAA-designated locations. If the FAA is wrong about this and the number of non-compliant aircraft grows over time, the FAA offers no mechanism for adding new flying fields. The drone hobbyist community would be stuck with the flying fields that existed at the time these rules went into effect — no matter how many people wanted to use them. No one will be able to fly homebuilt aircraft in their backyards or nearby empty fields.

And this exception also does nothing for people who want to use custom-built drones for practical applications, for example on farms or construction sites. Presumably over time large dronemakers would build drones that would meet most needs. But having individuals and small companies experimenting with homebrew technology is an important source of innovation — and the FAA seems determined to stamp that kind of innovation out.

The debate isn’t over. The FAA published its revised rules a few weeks ago and gave the public until Monday, March 2 to submit comments. Once the deadline has passed, FAA staffers are supposed to read all the comments — tens of thousands of them — and take them into account as it fashions a final rule.

The Overwhelming public opposition to the current proposal could cause the FAA to rethink its approach, but it’s not guaranteed to do so . Once the FAA has taken all the public comments into account, it will likely publish a final rule along with written responses to issues raised by commenters.

Commenting is easy. If you’re a drone hobbyist, model airplane enthusiast, or anyone else who is affected by the rules, you can click here and then click the “comment now” button. Comments can range from a few sentences to many pages. Comment submission will be open until : 640 pm on Monday.



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