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7/28/2014
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FAA Rules On Drones Vs. Model Aircraft Protested

Proposed FAA dividing line between model aircraft and drones is too limiting to hobbyists, says the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation and Academy of Model Aeronautics.

goggles designed to provide a 'first-person view' from the model," the proposed rule states. "Such devices would limit the operator's field of view thereby reducing his or her ability to see-and-avoid other aircraft in the area. Additionally, some of these devices could dramatically increase the distance at which an operator could see the aircraft, rendering the statutory visual-line-of-sight requirements meaningless."

The wording earned the FAA the scorn of Boing Boing because it could apply to even small toy drones.

Like the model aircraft enthusiasts, the ITIF sees "having someone stand on the side and watch the device as a bystander" as a reasonable safety precaution, consistent with the intent of Congress that the FAA take "community guidelines" into account.

The dividing line between hobbyist and commercial uses of small unmanned aircraft is also at issue. Again, the FAA thinks the dividing line is clearly whenever any money changes hands. The agency offered these examples:

Table 1: Model Aircraft or Commercial Drone?

Hobby or Recreation Not Hobby or Recreation
Flying a model aircraft at the local model aircraft club. Receiving money for demonstrating aerobatics with a model aircraft.
Taking photographs with a model aircraft for personal use. A realtor using a model aircraft to photograph a property that he is trying to sell and using the photos in the property’s real estate listing.
A person photographing a property or event and selling the photos to someone else.
Using a model aircraft to move a box from point to point without any kind of compensation. Delivering packages to people for a fee.
Viewing a field to determine whether crops need water when they are grown for personal enjoyment. Determining whether crops need to be watered that are grown as part of commercial farming operation.

Critics suggest it will be too easy to trip over that line, however. "If someone takes a picture from a drone or model airplane then sells that picture, they can be dinged with a huge fine," McQuinn said. "There is no difference from a safety perspective for a hobbyist to fly a friend a package and not charge for it, whereas if a company flies a package to the same person and charges for it, that would be illegal, they could be charged a huge fine. We argue that it's no different."

The Academy of Model Aeronautics argues the interpretation of what constitutes a hobbyist use is inconsistent with other FAA rulings and those of other agencies such as the Internal Revenue Service. "For instance, an individual who owns and operates his own full-scale aircraft for his personal pleasure and recreation is allowed to conduct aerial photography as a private civil operator whether or not he/she intends to sell the photographs. However, under the Interpretive Rule, a model aircraft enthusiast who uses his model aircraft for aerial photography and subsequently sells the photograph to an interested party is no longer considered a hobbyist. Moreover, the IRS would not allow the deduction of the operating expense and aircraft acquisition cost based merely on the sale of a photograph. The IRS will also tell you that a business that is recreational in nature and does not turn a profit over time is in fact a hobby."

The FAA declined a request for an interview with the authors of the rule, but provided a written statement arguing that it was merely providing needed clarification of how it will interpret the law, not imposing new restrictions. "While flying model aircraft for a hobby or recreation does not necessarily require FAA approval, all model aircraft operators must operate according to the law," the FAA states.

Part of ITIF's argument is that the FAA should restrict itself to regulating for legitimate safety issues and not get too far ahead of rapidly developing technologies. "Our position is we shouldn't regulate for potential harms," McQuinn said. As complications arise, rules can be devised to address them, he said.

Safety is not necessarily the only issue in play. The domestic use of drones has also provoked privacy concerns, which have been the subject of other proposed legislation. An FPV drone could fly into a neighbor's backyard and peer through the bedroom windows. Might not avoiding such scenarios have been in the minds of those in Congress who voted for that "line of sight" restriction?

McQuinn argued the language is open enough to allow the FAA to be more permissive in allowing the use of technology such as FPV. The privacy issues might not be the FAA's concern in any case. Politico recently reported that the Obama administration is preparing an executive order making the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, an arm of the Commerce Department, responsible for regulating that aspect of drone operations.

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David F. Carr
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David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
7/29/2014 | 10:25:11 AM
Re: I don't envy the FAA's task
Drones with cameras and drones with guns, those are real issues / dangers but probably largely outside the scope of FAA regulation. There will probably be a whole separate set of regulations / laws from law enforcement to privacy to telecommunications (radio spectrum) governing unmanned aircraft, with more needed as time goes on for complications that have yet to arise.

The FAA's main charge is to make sure these things can operate safely in public airspace (which I guess might include that they're not carrying gun turrets), with some reasonable accommodation for hobbyist / noncommercial use of small unpiloted planes that fit into the traditional model aircraft niche. I think that's part of the White House's logic behind having another agency take the lead on the privacy / bandwidth issues (assuming the Politico report is correct).
Paul Burnett
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Paul Burnett,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/28/2014 | 11:58:40 PM
Re: I don't envy the FAA's task
"(imagine a drone controlled by a paparazzo)" Imagine a 12-gauge shotgun...
asksqn
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asksqn,
User Rank: Ninja
7/28/2014 | 5:00:14 PM
Base Regulation on Who Manufactured the RC item
Putting the regulation of drones/hobby planes under the NTIA umbrella sounds practical in theory, NTIA is, after all, an arm of the Commerce Dept.,but then again, one of the agency's stated goals is to keep phone and cable TV affordable.  Anyone who subscribes to either utility knows that the NTIA has epically failed on that count.  All that being said, and in consideration of the gnashing of teeth from both opponents as well as advocates with regard to the FAA's criteria, the only solution with regard to regs is to distinguish between manufacturers - was it a consumer product oriented company selling RC hobbyist items, or a civilian contractor manufacturing drones? 
Thomas Claburn
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Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
7/28/2014 | 4:48:37 PM
Re: LoS part, okay. Commercial part, huh?
I actually sympathize with the FAA. Crafting rules to cover all the possibilities is thankless and there's no way to please everyone. 
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
7/28/2014 | 2:58:18 PM
Re: More objections to the FAA drone / model aircraft rule
The photography questions with regard to drones have just started. We will need much more privacy protection as consumers than the current laws ever envisioned us needing.
David F. Carr
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David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
7/28/2014 | 1:35:53 PM
More objections to the FAA drone / model aircraft rule
Academics have their own objections to the lines the FAA is trying to draw:

Professors object to FAA restrictions on drone use - Associated Press - POLITICO.com 
jries921
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jries921,
User Rank: Ninja
7/28/2014 | 11:14:52 AM
I don't envy the FAA's task
For starters, it couldn't possibly be fun to try to apply existing statute to a brand new category of aircraft (acts of Congress tend to be horribly complex, but its the bureaucrats who get blamed for it).  Then we have the privacy concerns (imagine a drone controlled by a paparazzo), and public safety concerns (imagine a privately owned automated bomber).  And we have model aircraft hobbyists who don't want their options limited any more than they have to be.

This is definitely not a good time to be a rule writer for the FAA.

 
Zman7
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Zman7,
User Rank: Strategist
7/28/2014 | 10:55:08 AM
Not sure if these people know what they're doing...
The LOS part stinks.  Many model aircraft flyers go out by themselves. I wouldn't want the requirement to have someone to tag along if I had first person view equipment.  The advances in technology will far outstrip any laws these clowns want to write today.

 

I appears to me that the gov't is trying to figure out a way to get additional tax money from drones.  If people are flying them as a hobby, then it's a hobby.  If they use them in business, then they should be treated like trucks and cars currently used as business equipment.  The FAA should simply specify what space they can fly in - period.
David F. Carr
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David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
7/28/2014 | 10:21:11 AM
Re: LoS part, okay. Commercial part, huh?
If you're thinking commercial use of small drones / model aircraft should be unregulated, you'd have to take that up with Congress. The only lattitude FAA would have is exactly where to draw the line. I thought the hobbyist group quoted in the story made a reasonable point about one sale of one photo not being enough to qualify as a business in the eyes of the IRS, so maybe the FAA should allow some latitude there.
UberGoober
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UberGoober,
User Rank: Strategist
7/28/2014 | 10:12:44 AM
Thank You Big Gubmint
Everything not mandatory is forbidden.
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