Drone Registration Rules Are Announced by F.A.A.
December 14, 2015 12:47 PM   Subscribe

The FAA announced today that all drone units weighing between 0.55 and 50 lbs must be registered with the government by Feb. 19, 2016. The new rules on drones come before the holidays, when an estimated 700,000 new drones are expected to be bought.

Ars Technica reports that:
Registration is legally required by February 19, 2016. The rule applies retroactively, so even someone who operated an unmanned aircraft prior to December 21 must register by the deadline. Anyone purchasing a drone after December 21 must register before the first outdoor flight. For anyone registering in the first month, the $5 aircraft registration fee will be refunded.
In addition, R&D Mag reports that:
Between December 2013 and September 2015, there were a total of 921 incidents involving drones and manned aircraft in the national airspace, according to a new report (pdf) from Bard College’s Center for the Study of the Drone...In their report’s introduction, Gettinger and Michel recount an incident involving Delta Air Lines Flight 1559, enroute to Los Angeles from Honolulu. The Boeing 757 was eight miles from the airport, and started its descent from around 3,000 ft. Before the plane could contact the tower for instructions, an object caught the first officer’s eye. At first, his mistook it for a large bird headed towards the plane. But as the object passed 150 ft to the jet’s right, the first officer saw it was a red square drone. The pilot called the encounter “uncomfortably close.”
posted by Existential Dread (161 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
 
How many of those 921 encounters involved an unidentifiable pilot? That's all a registration provides, identifiability (well, that and another $5 every 3 years for the FAA). And if someone does do something dangerous or unlawful with an unregistered drone, they'll be just as hard to identify and prosecute as if a registration system did not exist.

Drone licenses and/or drone insurance would make more sense, if the goal is to prevent irresponsible drone use. But such programs would still have to be designed well, so you can get someone a toy drone for Christmas without worrying about legal issues.

The proposed technological fixes, like geo-fencing around airports or sense-and-avoid software, also get closer to the real problem than registration does.
posted by Rangi at 12:57 PM on December 14, 2015


What is the difference between a drone and an RC aircraft? Do those also have to be registered?
posted by nushustu at 12:57 PM on December 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


Yes, all aircraft have to be registered. From the FAA: "Owners using the model aircraft for hobby or recreation will only have to register once and may use the same identification number for all of their model UAS. The registration is valid for three years."
posted by Rangi at 12:59 PM on December 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'd like to think this was about protecting people from unwanted snooping, especially the pervert variety, but this is simply the state protecting itself from technology which can make it a lot easier to see through their lies and cover ups.
posted by Beholder at 1:00 PM on December 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


I guess we'll be seeing a whole lot of innovation in the under-250-gram drone space.
posted by straight at 1:03 PM on December 14, 2015 [45 favorites]


Existential Dread: "The Boeing 757 was eight miles from the airport, and started its descent from around 3,000 ft. Before the plane could contact the tower for instructions, an object caught the first officer’s eye."

IANAP, but this sounds like it's a violation of Class C airspace, which is already super illegal, regardless of any specifics of being a drone or not.

Also, worth noting, but the FAA has never been particularly interested in punishment-as-a-deterrent. They're one of the few arms of the government set up to operate on an almost exclusively evidence-based ideology. I wouldn't jump to the conclusion that the registration system is an effort to find people to prosecute.
posted by schmod at 1:03 PM on December 14, 2015 [10 favorites]


With the rule being retroactive, I feel really bad for anybody who bought a drone a year ago and doesn't read the Federal Register recreationally.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 1:09 PM on December 14, 2015 [9 favorites]


What is the difference between a drone and an RC aircraft?

the former bringeth the pizza, taco, coke and sushi - the latter one can go crash its useless self.

we had drones bringing us delicious food IN THE AIR and we BLEW IT.

this is our future despair
posted by Foci for Analysis at 1:10 PM on December 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


So it looks at a glance, at least, like this effectively ends the Special Rule for Model Aircraft? The R/C hobbyists must be in as much of an uproar as they're capable of making.
posted by RogerB at 1:10 PM on December 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


state protecting itself from technology which can make it a lot easier to see through their lies and cover ups.

I beg to differ. This is about air safety for police and news helicopters, jets and fire fighting equipment. The more drones that go up the more idiots will fly into flight paths, fires, traffic accidents and crime scenes trying to get video for TMZ and the like.
posted by Sophie1 at 1:11 PM on December 14, 2015 [27 favorites]


Also, worth noting, but the FAA has never been particularly interested in punishment-as-a-deterrent.

Yeah, I totally agree. The FAA's whole operating philosophy really is about community engagement and ensuring everyone is involved in the culture of safety.

What I think they're trying to do with this is basically get the drone community to acknowledge that they're members of the larger aviation community and need to have that same safety mentality. By registering, you're agreeing to be a cooperative player in the national airspace and you need to behave yourself like any other aircraft operator. It's a bit like the five dollar signup here - if you've got skin in the game, even a token amount, you're more likely to play nice.

From a regulatory perspective, I think this will also accomplish two things. First, the FAA can gather more concrete data about where drones are owned and operated, who's flying them, and how many are out there. This data collection will help them to develop reasonable regulation for small UAVs. Secondarily, going after bad actors will reduce incidents. For aircraft operators, the FAA mostly works on an honor system - they believe you until there's an incident/accident, and then the hammer drops if your credentials aren't in line.

I think this is a good first step.

I'd like to think this was about protecting people from unwanted snooping, especially the pervert variety, but this is simply the state protecting itself from technology which can make it a lot easier to see through their lies and cover ups.

What a ridiculous statement.
posted by backseatpilot at 1:11 PM on December 14, 2015 [68 favorites]


drone insurance

The Academy of Model Aeronautics offers a $2.5m liability policy for $75/year, as long as you stick to some (fairly sensible) rules like not flying outside visual range or anywhere near an airport. It's existed for over 50 years at this point. Drones are not a new invention guys... they've just gotten way cheaper and way easier to fly.
posted by miyabo at 1:12 PM on December 14, 2015 [10 favorites]


The R/C hobbyists must be in as much of an uproar as they're capable of making.

Rrrrrrreeeeeeeeeeee, rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr, wrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr
posted by uncleozzy at 1:13 PM on December 14, 2015 [53 favorites]


Viral marketing for Captain America Civil War.
posted by paper chromatographologist at 1:14 PM on December 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm also curious if this will encourage the formation or growth of drone organizations similar to ALPA or AOPA. I think it would be worthwhile to have a lobbying group for UAV operators interested in maintaining a healthy relationship with FAA.
posted by backseatpilot at 1:14 PM on December 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


straight: That'd be a good outcome. Right now there are a couple of expensive fpv racing multis at around 250g, but this might push the miniquad guys down a weight class, so we could see more competition there. The (small, but real) risk of hurting someone has put me off getting anything bigger than a hubsan, which is fun but pretty limited.
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 1:15 PM on December 14, 2015


GA pilots like to joke that the FAA motto is "We're not happy until you're not happy." But, the reality is the FAA has a pretty good track record as government agencies go. This is a real issue of how to share the commons and it will take regulatory adjustment on all sides before it is done. The first step is to get drone operators used to the idea of thinking to check what the FAA has to say about things. They are not an agency the average consumer has experience with. I'd expect this registration is only a first step, and that is okay.

The real challenge is the FAA is very much not nimble. Most parts of government are not, but it's been particularly striking to me to see how much Certified aircraft systems are falling behind the technology curve, largely because they don't know how to keep up with the pace of change. That will be a real challenge with their attempts to address drone operator behavior.

At the end of the day, this is not going to be about deliberately bad actors or the occasional "experimental" class folks who build drones from the ground up. They will want to make commercial and consumer products meet some basic built-in safety standards - and that is a very good thing.
posted by meinvt at 1:19 PM on December 14, 2015 [6 favorites]


OK, so what's the cut-off for toy drones & quads?

Is there any place to find the drone's weight, exclusive of its packaging, so you know whther or not to report for your paperz register for an ID? For example, my son has a tiny Hubsan H107L quadcopter, and it zzzzzipzz around the house to his delight. Its Amazon product page claims its weight as 0.88 pounds, but that includes at least the controller, too.

Common sense says that he's in the clear, but if he owned a slightly larger unit I would certainly want to know.
posted by wenestvedt at 1:19 PM on December 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


This seems like a pretty easy requirement to meet, and I don't completely understand the problem that a lot of people seem to have with it. It doesn't solve all the problems with drones, but it's a first step, and does not seem totally unreasonable.
posted by jjwiseman at 1:20 PM on December 14, 2015 [6 favorites]


What if I duct tape a gun to it? Do I still have to register it or can I just buy it at a flea market and pontificate about the constitution if anyone gives me grief?
posted by goHermGO at 1:20 PM on December 14, 2015 [38 favorites]


Do you have a kitchen scale, wenestvedt?
posted by odinsdream at 1:22 PM on December 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


There is no difference between a drone and an RC aircraft, as far as the FAA is concerned.
posted by jjwiseman at 1:22 PM on December 14, 2015


HANG ON, THERE'S A FAQ!

The list has a sampling of toy quads & drones, and whether or not you need to register them. Bless you, FAA! posted by wenestvedt at 1:22 PM on December 14, 2015 [10 favorites]


For example, my son has a tiny Hubsan H107L quadcopter, and it zzzzzipzz around the house to his delight.

If he's only flying it indoors, I don't think you need to register it (at least from my reading of the press release and the regs). And honestly, this is going to be less like getting a drivers license and more like getting a fishing license - very little enforcement unless it turns into a police investigation. Even for regular pilots, the FAA's not in the habit of spot checks.
posted by backseatpilot at 1:23 PM on December 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


wenestvedt, my h107d is slightly over 50g with the battery in it. A h107l will be a good bit less than that. 250g is pretty big by comparison.
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 1:23 PM on December 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


(And the picture of the 3D Robotics (3DR) Solo on the second-to-last page -- apparently a favorite of Michael Biehn, judging from the photo -- does require papers.)
posted by wenestvedt at 1:24 PM on December 14, 2015


odinsdream, I do have a scale, yes, but I also have some familiarity with "screw your evidence, my papers say so right here" from time to time. :7)
posted by wenestvedt at 1:26 PM on December 14, 2015


my h107d is slightly over 50g with the battery in it. A h107l will be a good bit less than that. 250g is pretty big by comparison.

You have a remotely piloted, flying vehicle that weighs less than the amount of coffee beans I grind for my SO and I every day?

We live in the future.
posted by a halcyon day at 1:27 PM on December 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


Again, backseatpilot nails it. The fishing license is a perfect analogy. They use it to keep broad statistics and to slightly increase the likelihood that you've actually read the rules associated with the fun activity you are about to head off and do. It's highly unlikely anyone would check you on it if you're following those rules. And in the end, the goal is to get people to follow rules a bit more, not to take away the fun of fishing.
posted by meinvt at 1:30 PM on December 14, 2015 [6 favorites]


[Backseatpilot's] fishing license is a perfect analogy.

In Rhode Island, anyone over age 60 can get a lifetime fishing license. But a lifetime drone license…? Please, FAA, be smarter than Rhode Island DEM!!

But I get it, this is not intended as a barrier so much as an organizational rule.
posted by wenestvedt at 1:34 PM on December 14, 2015


I think the gun lobby has done too good a job making people think "registration" is somehow a precursor to confiscation. (Which isn't even true for guns, much less this case).

There is no difference between a drone and an RC aircraft, as far as the FAA is concerned

From an aviation safety perspective this seems right, they're both just small planes. (And most low-end hobby drones I've seen are basically harder-to-crash RC helis)
posted by thefoxgod at 1:36 PM on December 14, 2015 [6 favorites]


When drones have to be registered but Kardashians do not, we live in a dire world.
posted by delfin at 1:36 PM on December 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's tougher to pilot a Kardashian into a commercial airliner on approach to LAX, I would guess.
posted by Existential Dread at 1:38 PM on December 14, 2015 [26 favorites]


We live in the future.

Yeah. It's pretty incredible. I remember when I was a kid that a radio controlled helicopter was the ultimate object of desire. They had petrol engines, could only be flown at club flying fields, were hard to get running, really hard to keep running, really really hard to fly and cost at least £1000. A few weeks ago, one vendor was selling fpv quads like mine for $80. The basic non-video model that wenestvedt mentioned is less than half that, and they have enough power and onboard stabilization to be perfectly happy blasting around the garden and over the roof of the house, even in breezy conditions. Fun!
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 1:38 PM on December 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


Kind of a segue but one of my biggest pet peeves as a DC area resident is that drones are completely illegal anywhere within 30 miles of Reagan National Airport, yet they are on sale EVERYWHERE and no one has any signage that let's people know it's illegal to fly here. And sadly, probably won't change anytime in the near future (if ever). :(
posted by tittergrrl at 1:39 PM on December 14, 2015


Drones are not a new invention guys... they've just gotten way cheaper and way easier to fly.

Drones are the Eternal September of RC aviation.
posted by NoxAeternum at 1:41 PM on December 14, 2015 [21 favorites]


I remember when Dad bought a CB radio for the car for Christmas.

The manual had a long page in the back emphasizing that you needed an FCC callsign to operate a CB, and you could make up a temporary one using your zipcode or something while your paperwork was in process.

I wonder how many upright citizens actually did that.
posted by JoeZydeco at 1:45 PM on December 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'd like to think this was about protecting people from unwanted snooping, especially the pervert variety, but this is simply the state protecting itself from technology which can make it a lot easier to see through their lies and cover ups.

What a ridiculous statement.
Have we already forgotten about the No-Fly Zone above Ferguson?

The FAA may be full of wonderful people full of the best intentions, but that doesn't prevent the system from being abused.
posted by b1tr0t at 1:45 PM on December 14, 2015 [9 favorites]


Does the registration involve putting on some sort of identifier onto the drone?

For example, when you register a car, you get a license plate.

When you register a boat, you have to put on your own deal letters of a specific size.

This is important to me, as I would like to report abuse of drones in areas where they are not allowed, and I am not really all that interested in tracking down the drone operator and having a face to face chat with them.
posted by alex_skazat at 1:51 PM on December 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


Yes, the registration app will generate an ID number that must be marked on the aircraft.
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 1:54 PM on December 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


Yes, the registration app will generate an ID number that must be marked on the aircraft.

Thank you, and thank you FAA for making some reasonable choices. I don't mind drones, but I do mind when drones are not being flown in a safe manner.
posted by alex_skazat at 1:55 PM on December 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


You have a remotely piloted, flying vehicle that weighs less than the amount of coffee beans I grind for my SO and I every day?

We live in the future.


In this present-future, there's a magazine or five (probably) for such hobbyists and pros, which you can buy in Whole Foods (which was the biggest wtf/whoa future moment for me).
posted by filthy light thief at 1:57 PM on December 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


But if you do mind drones, there's a DIY net gun solution to clear the air.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:10 PM on December 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Kind of a segue but one of my biggest pet peeves as a DC area resident is that drones are completely illegal anywhere within 30 miles of Reagan National Airport, yet they are on sale EVERYWHERE and no one has any signage that let's people know it's illegal to fly here. And sadly, probably won't change anytime in the near future (if ever). :(

My understanding is that the operating software in some of these drones won't actually let them be flown in this area. So I can see a lot of returns being generated when people find out their $500+ drone can't fly in their backyard because they live in the no fly zone. Although given how many people are searching for a way to hack their drones, there are portions of the community that are pretty immature when it comes to safety. :(
posted by longdaysjourney at 2:11 PM on December 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Are little drones more dangerous to planes than, say, birds?
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:26 PM on December 14, 2015


We can't register all the birds, Joe.
posted by maryr at 2:30 PM on December 14, 2015 [14 favorites]


LiPo burns hot, so possibly.
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 2:31 PM on December 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


I don't completely understand the problem that a lot of people seem to have with it.

The Gubmint Is Takin' Away Our guns Drones!!!
posted by Jimbob at 2:34 PM on December 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


[One comment deleted. I totally get where the frustration is coming from, but let's not turn this into a gun control thread, since we've had that discussion at incredible length recently?]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 2:36 PM on December 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


I guess I saw this coming. The same thing apparently happened with unlicensed radio about a century ago with hobby transmitters interfering with commercial and emergency traffic.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 2:37 PM on December 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


Seriously though, people can be extremely weird about anyone asking them to take any kind of responsibility and act as a member of a community and society.

In my part of the world, it's common for farmers and large landholders to burn their properties, for the purposes of cropping, reducing forest fire risk, disposing of green waste, whatever. These fires, occasionally, get out of control. A law was introduced whereby people doing this burning, during specific months of the year, now have to phone the fire department to get a "permit" before they burn. The permit literally consists of calling the fire department, someone there saying "yep that's fine" or "no, wait until next week when it's not so hot", and then getting on with it.

But no. THE GOVERNMENT IS INTERFERING WITH MY RIGHTS AS A LANDOWNER AND I CAN DO WHATEVER I WANT ON MY PROPERTY DAMMIT! The end result has been less landowners burning, which increases fire risk for the community as a whole due to fuel build up, because people are offended by the idea that they have a responsibility to tell a government department what they're up to so they don't bother.

Take a bit of responsibility. Enjoy the fact that you are now a Registered Drone Operator!
posted by Jimbob at 2:40 PM on December 14, 2015 [14 favorites]


The level of risk posed by drones to aircraft is something we don't seem to have a good handle on yet.

Several groups have found some issues with the FAA's collection of alleged close calls (e.g. "A Closer Look at the FAA’s Drone Data" by the Academy of Model Aeronautics), but the most in-depth analysis is probably this study released on Friday by The Center for the Study of the Drone: Drone Sightings and Close Encounters.

The birds vs. drones question is another one that I'm not sure we have a lot of data on, but my guess is that the FAA's 250 gram threshold for registration is relatively conservative in terms of potential damage (and LiPo batteries can store frightening amounts of energy, but my hunch is that the FAA is mostly concerned with kinetic energy).
posted by jjwiseman at 2:46 PM on December 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


The drone wars, begun they have.
posted by furtive at 2:49 PM on December 14, 2015 [10 favorites]


Imagine a cloud of tiny drones, like a little flock of birds. Suppose each one is well under the weight limit, but the flock as a whole is well over the limit. With proper software, one operator could control the whole flock.

Is that a violation?
posted by yesster at 2:49 PM on December 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


So, if it's classed by *weight*, can I get around the rules by building a robot blimp of doom?
posted by Cironian at 2:53 PM on December 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


So now I have to go call my 76 year old father and explain this to him. He's built and flown RC aircraft for just about at least as long as I have been alive....ugh. As in I think he was planning on going out to fly earlier today.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 2:53 PM on December 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


James Bridle: "My money is on collaborative quarter-pound drone swarms."
posted by jjwiseman at 2:54 PM on December 14, 2015


The drone wars, begun they have.

More literally true in Tokyo, where they now have police drones equipped with nets to catch drones.
posted by thefoxgod at 2:57 PM on December 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


Oh, he's actually 77.....argh. (didn't we used to be able to edit? ugh.)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 3:01 PM on December 14, 2015




Yeah, I'm thoroughly nonplussed by this. I mean, I'm building my next brushless FPV quad with the express intent of seeing if I can get it under 250g (my last one was 377g all up with battery), but that's mostly just to see if I can and not out of some stick inna mud sense of rights.

There are arguments to be made whether hanging a pilot identifier off of a 180mm (7") quad is going to be particularly useful from a compliance standpoint, but whatever, I'm already obligated to have my AMA ID on there and I've been trying to figure out what I really should be doing for FCC compliance with my mobile video transmitter so meh, what's one more identifier? And over the course of the hundreds I've spent on this hobby, the extra $1.67/year is kind of lost in the noise.

But yeah, I don't think it's going to amount to a hill of beans for Joe Scofflaw who wants to go fly around his neighborhood in an irresponsible manner. *shrug* And the FOIA / privacy nuts are kind of weird about this - as I understand it my name and address are a matter of public record already, so all this does is confirm that I'm an RC pilot. Whoop-tee-doo.
posted by Kyol at 3:21 PM on December 14, 2015 [1 favorite]





> The drone wars, begun they have.

It's team Saarang all the way for me. I'll never pay for a tanpurist again.
 
posted by Herodios at 3:30 PM on December 14, 2015


Although if they ever actually start to crack down on the 5 mile no-fly radius around airports, uggggh. So very much of my town is covered by little itty bitty private airports that you'd never think of, otherwise.
posted by Kyol at 4:04 PM on December 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Jimbob: “Seriously though, people can be extremely weird about anyone asking them to take any kind of responsibility and act as a member of a community and society... But no. THE GOVERNMENT IS INTERFERING WITH MY RIGHTS AS A LANDOWNER AND I CAN DO WHATEVER I WANT ON MY PROPERTY DAMMIT! The end result has been less landowners burning, which increases fire risk for the community as a whole due to fuel build up, because people are offended by the idea that they have a responsibility to tell a government department what they're up to so they don't bother. Take a bit of responsibility. Enjoy the fact that you are now a Registered Drone Operator!”

Well – look, I'd love to think this would be a simple, unalloyed good, but we've already seen plenty of problems here. It would be really cool if the FAA were an independent agency completely separate from any other branch of government, but it's not. Police departments in the US have already gotten used to using the FAA to enact no-fly zones so that they can avoid prying eyes when they're engaging in probably-shady acts. And that's just the huge cases that make the national news; even now, police departments all over love cracking down and trying to arrest people for flying drones too close to police stations or buildings they see as "vulnerable." There's a very real issue here concerning the importance of public areas being available for the public to view and report on; there's a new frontier of transparancy and a sudden ability we have to see and records what's going on in tense situations, and the police would rather we didn't use those abilities. And the executive branch of the US government has been all too happy to call up people in the FAA and get a helping hand in doing that.

I'm not saying this will be a terrible thing. But I am saying: we have a civic duty, as citizens, to make sure it isn't abused. I don't think it's an insane gun-nut kind of thing to worry that people who fly drones near police stations or jails or above protests will see their equipment confiscated and their rights infringed; it already happens all the time.
posted by koeselitz at 4:10 PM on December 14, 2015 [6 favorites]


Although if they ever actually start to crack down on the 5 mile no-fly radius around airports, uggggh.

It looks like you just need to contact the airport/control tower first: "Can you fly your drone within 5 miles of an airport?"
posted by jjwiseman at 4:19 PM on December 14, 2015


I'm a little uneasy about this rule, but I think it's reasonable. In particular self-registration and self-labelling is not a very onerous requirement, it's not adding a lot of expense or process to flying drones. I hope the FAA's website they build works better than the one I had to go through to get my pilot's license though. What a mess that was.

I take issue with Foxx's quote though "unmanned aircraft enthusiast are aviators, and with that title comes a great deal of responsibility". Unmanned aircraft do not have the same level of responsibility as manned aircraft. Precisely because there's no man (or woman) inside. Also light UAVs (a few pounds) are much less likely to damage something than a piloted airplane, and low altitude UAVs (under 400') are very much less likely to interfere with other aviation traffic. There should be some responsibility for a UAV operator, sure, but it's nothing like the responsibility a real pilot sitting in a manned aircraft has. And the FAA is all about being super conservative and protecting the lives of people in planes. Which good for them, but it's not clear how applicable it will be to UAVs.

As long as FAA stays out of the way of commercial UAV development it should be OK. But for the past 10 years their management has been a total fiasco, so I'm not optimistic now.
posted by Nelson at 4:25 PM on December 14, 2015


Yes, the registration app will generate an ID number that must be marked on the aircraft.

Heh, that kinda makes me want to get one of these toys.

Up until this point I have had no interest in drones, but the idea of having my very own FAA number that aviation regulations require me to paint onto all flying machines that I own/fly... for some reason that just hits the old-school-cool buttons :)
posted by anonymisc at 4:28 PM on December 14, 2015 [17 favorites]


This will have very little effect on preserving privacy because you can do a lot under 250 grams.

The PD-100 PRS for example weighs 18 grams with a range of 1.6 kilometres and 25 minute running time. It mounts three steerable cameras and has a GPS autopilot as well as direct video based control. It's weather proof, can handle 12 m/s winds and can fly at night by video because it has thermal cameras.
posted by Mitheral at 4:44 PM on December 14, 2015 [6 favorites]


I totally get the point about the 5-mile restriction covering an awful lot of urban areas, and how frustrating that'll be on Christmas Day. But then, as a sport pilot flying around LA, the presence of drones along the shoreline, within a few hundred feet of the climb out of Santa Monica, for example, gives me the complete heebie-jeebies every time I fly: I just know some Dudebro With a GoPro is going to try to get a really good fly-by shot, and take out some poor pilot's prop.

Those things are super cool, yes, but allow them near a VFR airfield and it's only a matter of time before someone gets really hurt, never mind the Class-C and Class-B airspace restrictions we all have to live with.
posted by DangerIsMyMiddleName at 4:50 PM on December 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


Re: privacy, the FAA has argued that its mission does not extend to regulating privacy. Others disagree.
posted by jjwiseman at 4:52 PM on December 14, 2015


I'm glad for this, as it's the first step in consolidated, Federal rules for an industry which is basically the wild west right now.

250g, falling from 400' could have a free fall velocity of about 109 mph. If that hits you it will impart 298J of energy to you, and most multi-rotors are covered in sharp edges. That would be like getting hit with a 120 mph hockey puck shot, but if the hockey puck was covered in sharp things.

One of the business units in my company was the first in Florida to receive a Section 333 exemption - we're committed to working with UAVs in a safe, controlled manner in film and video production. We see a huge number of people in the video production industry buying drones and thinking they are able to safely fly them over the general public and bristling at any suggestion that they are being unsafe, let alone the suggestion that they should be carrying insurance, or reminding them they could be fined for making money with a UAV without an exemption.

Our pilots all have licenses, and we have rules and checklists and procedures so that people on our closed sets don't get hurt. Do you think that everyone who buys a DJI Phantom is going to be that safe?
posted by tomierna at 4:52 PM on December 14, 2015 [13 favorites]


Oh, I'm rarely getting over the treetops (height is dull, skimming the ground is fun and challenging), so if a plane is down in it, I know they're there and they're already having a Bad Day. But yeah, people need to realize that they're flying something that can fail and they need to think about the risks they're taking if it fails. I think a lot of people buying video drones don't even consider it.

The problem is I don't see a lot of evidence that this is really doing anything about that part of the problem.
posted by Kyol at 5:05 PM on December 14, 2015


If you're worried about a UAV falling from the sky and injuring someone below it's the UAV manufacturers you need to regulate, not the operators. But building a failsafe drone is a seriously hard problem, and if you require over-engineering against systems failure it will make UAVs far too expensive. I suppose you could ban operating UAVs over areas with people entirely, which I suspect is far too restrictive to be reasonable. I think the real result is what we have now, that we just accept the risk of the occasional UAV plummeting into someone's skull. At least it'll be labelled now!

FAA is mostly worried about UAVs running into other aircraft. Which is a reasonable concern, and totally in their jurisdiction. I think the key thing there is to publish some very easy to understand rules. Stay low, be small, and don't go near airports.
posted by Nelson at 5:14 PM on December 14, 2015


250g, falling from 400' could have a free fall velocity of about 109 mph [...]

Would a drone really fall with high terminal velocity? Surely the rotors would slow its descent.

Incidentally, please don't mix SI and Imperial measurements; it looks weird and makes things hard to work out.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:28 PM on December 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


They're not dense things as a rule (not sure what weight has to do with terminal velocity), but quads don't really autorotate, and the surface area's usually quite low compared to a conventional aircraft, so they'll fall pretty fast. Even with the motors running, they can drop into their own vortex ring easily and then the descent rate gets high quickly.

I'd be more worried about getting hit by one with the props running than having one drop on my head. Especially those 250 racers. I still want one though.
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 6:27 PM on December 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


I don't see anything in the regulations about a 5 mile radius around airports. Interesting that registration is limited to US citizens and lawful residents, though.
posted by jpe at 6:39 PM on December 14, 2015


From the FAA faq:

Q. If I don't have a scale and my drone doesn't appear on the list is there another method to tell how much it weighs?
A. Two sticks of butter weigh 0.5lbs


Awesome.
posted by jpe at 6:43 PM on December 14, 2015 [13 favorites]


Should be in the FAA faq:
Q: If I don't have a map, is there another method to tell how big a circle of exclusion is?

A: Rhode Island is approximately five miles in radius.
1

1 Not really, but apparently RI is a standard unit of area.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:00 PM on December 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


I hope I don't get arrested for that X8C I treed a couple of months ago.

Kids, don't get into quadcopters. It's a bad, bad habit.
posted by Sphinx at 7:02 PM on December 14, 2015


And if someone does do something dangerous or unlawful with an unregistered drone, they'll be just as hard to identify and prosecute as if a registration system did not exist.

The fact that some people might attempt to evade a licensing scheme for dangerous items isn't a reason to not implement one. Plenty of licensed aircraft will do plenty bad and registration from prior owners will still help track unregistered drones.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:03 PM on December 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Part of reason why Amazon doesn't have the drone program up and running yet is all drones used for commercial purposes must be controlled by a licensed pilot and within eyesight of that pilot. Commercial flights do have restrictions near (miles!) airports.
The commercial rules are completely different.
If these hobbyists start selling videos of flights they're going to be in hot water.
posted by littlewater at 7:04 PM on December 14, 2015


I wonder if YouTube's partner program would be enough to make you a commercial operation.
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 7:09 PM on December 14, 2015


Good question. The FAA FAQ says
" This applies even if you are only flying to supplement or aide your business and not charging fees for doing so."

So I would gather if you are just flying your drone around in one of your Too Many Kids Channel episodes, you should follow the commercial rules.
posted by littlewater at 7:15 PM on December 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Here's the commercial FAQ for anyone interested:

Section 333
posted by littlewater at 7:17 PM on December 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


rhamphorhynchus: "They're not dense things as a rule (not sure what weight has to do with terminal velocity),"

Well density not weight is an important factor. Because we don't live in a vacuum, low density items have a lower terminal velocity than high density items. And low density items tend to have softer, more forgiving exteriors if only because their curve radius tends to be larger. Like I'd rather get hit with a hollow aluminum ball falling at terminal velocity than the same mass composed of a solid lead sphere.

Taking the case of a quad rotor or similar; as long as they aren't plummeting sideways the rotors are going to induce drag which is going to decrease their terminal velocity.

People are already making drone chutes; maybe the way to approach drone flying over people is to require the drones to be equipped with automatically deploying chutes for specific failure modes.
posted by Mitheral at 7:24 PM on December 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Incidentally, please don't mix SI and Imperial measurements; it looks weird and makes things hard to work out.

Here you go, Joe from Australia:

250g, falling from 121.92m could have a free fall velocity of about 176.04kph. If that hits you it will impart 298J of energy to you, and most multi-rotors are covered in sharp edges. That would be like getting hit with a 193.12 kph hockey puck shot, but if the hockey puck was covered in sharp things.

(The reason why I mixed units is because we're talking about the FAA's rule making, which includes mixed units in the form of a 400' ceiling, and a 250g weight measurement. I was also initially going to use a baseball or a softball to compare the impact energy, but a hockey puck is closer in mass. USAians can understand the speed of these sports implements better in MPH.)
posted by tomierna at 7:34 PM on December 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


In the decades to come, I can see a very interesting, if a bit icky, quandary present itself to the FAA in regards to effectively defining the terms "drone" and "manned vs. unmanned" for certain situations.

For example, given the research and development of animal brains being wired into robots and aircraft , most notably the project in 2012 that had a rat brain flying a (simulated) F-22, and 20-50 years of advancing development, if one started with a 'normal' drone, and then integrated an organic 'living' brain mass from an animal (extensively trained in simulations beforehand) as its controller, is it still considered a drone? It certainly not "manned," but it's not entirely "unmanned" either.

For the moment, let's put the morality issues of such a creation aside, and consider just the problems of defining something like that for regulation purposes.

If the FAA simply considered it an "unmanned autonomous flying object" then it would seem to present the problem that Falconers would also have to register their birds with the FAA. "Well, it's an artificial, manufactured device. It's not a bird" you might say. OK, but consider going at it from the opposite end - if it was technologically possible, how much of a falcon could you replace with man-made replacement parts before it becomes an "an artificial, manufactured device" and is no longer a bird?

It's easy to just define such things as simply "an abomination" and leave it at that, but we are in a world where the very basic foundations of the science and technology needed to create such things already exist, and continue to be developed, so odds are these kind of questions will someday come up.
posted by chambers at 7:39 PM on December 14, 2015 [6 favorites]


Thanks for highlighting the commercial rules littlewater. They're still as restrictive and backwards as before, you need a special exemption. There have been 50 granted a week so far (1400 by September).

Someday soon every large farm in the US is going to have an autonomous aircraft flying over it doing sweeps. It will check for moisture, and color, and general health. This will be a great thing for farmers. But "soon" is years later than it should be because the FAA is restricting use.

People think about drones as those fun toys you fly around and take 3 minutes worth of shakycam video for. Yes, they're that, but there's a whole industry of remote sensing that's just waiting for a sensible FAA regulation regime to be legitimized.
posted by Nelson at 7:58 PM on December 14, 2015


Oh and I may I add how ridiculous is the requirement of having a licensed pilot to operate any UAV commercially? There are no human beings in the aircraft. You don't need a licensed pilot. A UAV does pose a theoretical risk to other aircraft, and that risk should be managed. But there is no meaningful risk to aviation for a 3 pound drone flying 100 feet over some farmer's wheat field. The FAA's current commercial restrictions don't understand that.
posted by Nelson at 8:00 PM on December 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Someday soon every large farm in the US is going to have an autonomous aircraft flying over it doing sweeps. It will check for moisture, and color, and general health. This will be a great thing for farmers. But "soon" is years later than it should be because the FAA is restricting use.

If I'm going to give anyone the benefit of the doubt for erring on the side of caution, it's the FAA.

Their track record speaks for itself.
posted by schmod at 10:19 PM on December 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


250g, falling from 121.92m could have a free fall velocity of about 176.04kph.

That would be neglecting air resistance, including stuff like drag coefficients and tumbling.

Very casual fooling around may show the terminal falling velocity of a phantom brand drone is around 33 mph (54 kph), (15 meters/second). For comparison, a falling baseball at terminal velocity may be around 95 mph (152 kph) and a stable belly-down skydiver around 125 mph (200 kph).

see:
(introduction to stuff falling in air) and
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Speed_skydiving
posted by sebastienbailard at 10:31 PM on December 14, 2015


I may only be a Software Engineer, but the First Rule of Engineering Club is: Make The Worst-Case Estimate, Then Double It.
posted by b1tr0t at 10:45 PM on December 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


So, we should really be considering a case where two drones simultaneously hit the test subject, each with a speed of 33 mph (54 kph) ...
posted by sebastienbailard at 10:51 PM on December 14, 2015


We should also be considering the case where the drone is upside down, and not just falling but running its fans at max speed. Then double that velocity.

Fortunately, that's just a hypothetical case. No one could be that much of an asshole.
posted by b1tr0t at 10:58 PM on December 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


But there is no meaningful risk to aviation for a 3 pound drone flying 100 feet over some farmer's wheat field. The FAA's current commercial restrictions don't understand that.

Except that many farmers fly (or hire people to fly) 100 feet over their wheat field. It's called cropdusting and a 3 pound drone hitting a small plane like that could send said farmer/pilot into said field.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 11:10 PM on December 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


It's tougher to pilot a Kardashian into a commercial airliner on approach to LAX, I would guess.

Sure, but have you seen what happens when one of those things gets sucked into a jet engine?
posted by flabdablet at 11:33 PM on December 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


This in no way stops me from building my EMP gun.
posted by Splunge at 3:39 AM on December 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


schmod: "If I'm going to give anyone the benefit of the doubt for erring on the side of caution, it's the FAA. Their track record speaks for itself."

Indeed. And it's not always a good one: frequent collusion with questionable police department tactics and highly problematic actions by other government agencies. It would be awesome if we could just judge the FAA purely by their safety record in commercial aviation, but they do a hell of a lot more than that, and we need to remember it.
posted by koeselitz at 6:45 AM on December 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


FAA has an excellent track record on commercial aviation safety, my complaint is that this conservative culture is not applicable to small UAVs.

The FAA has a poor track record on innovation. The continued delays in deploying NextGen ATC are directly relevant to UAVs. That system paves the way for UAVs to participate in ATC in a useful way, which means we could start relaxing the requirement that see-and-avoid is (almost) the only we keep planes from hitting each other. But NextGen is still years out of reach and hugely expensive. It's interesting to compare the glacially slow rollout of ADS-B to the development of FLARM, the European glider/hacker technology that serves a similar collision avoidance function.

The FAA also has a poor track record on encouraging innovation. It's explicitly not their mandate, and it shows. The state of technology for small aircraft is hideously outdated. Partly that's because the market is so small, but also it's because FAA certification rules instantly make everything that has already been developed 3x more expensive and makes developing new aircraft parts just ridiculously difficult. Arguably that care is reasonable for airplanes with people inside. And so far fortunately FAA doesn't seem to be applying certification rules to small unmanned aircraft. Let's hope it stays that way.

The FAA has dragged its feet so long on commercial UAV licensing that most commercial drone development has moved to Europe, Canada, even Australia. FAA's mandate is basically to say "no" to drones; the only reason we've seen any movement is the pushback from military and police. I don't think this new registration requirement for recreational drone pilots is a bad thing, it seems reasonable enough. But in the larger context of how the FAA has failed to adapt to UAVs it's not so impressive.
posted by Nelson at 7:17 AM on December 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's called cropdusting

Yeah, I had that in mind, I have a lot of admiration for cropduster pilots. But it's not like a surprise cropduster just shows up at a farm one day spreading his seed. Requiring Farmer Frank be a pilot to even operate the drone is not going to make Daredevil Dierdre safer. Let's assume Frank isn't an idiot and agrees not to fly the remote sensing drone the day the cropduster is scheduled.

Airspace is a shared resource. If we changed the rules on who can use the airspace to allow commercial UAVs, we'd see a lot of beneficial uses.
posted by Nelson at 7:23 AM on December 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


Not to mention the fact that the FAA's ruling pretty unfairly sets the game up against farmers by forcing them to pay extra to have a licensed pilot fly an actual plane over their crops. It's almost as though the FAA existed to serve the interests of pilots, rather than civilians. Up to now, we could pretend that those interests were the same, but they aren't always.
posted by koeselitz at 7:32 AM on December 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yeah, one of the more potentially conspiracy theory oriented rants coming out as a result of this is that the only source of data for UAS / GA inflight incidents is from pilot reports. Who stands to lose the most if UAS' start to take over portions of the airspace for search & rescue, videography, etc? Pilots. Who has the ear of the FAA? Pilots.

I'd feel a lot better about this is there was a stronger educational component. Not necessarily the amount of cramming I had to do for my FCC Tech license, but more than taking down names and addresses.
posted by Kyol at 7:40 AM on December 15, 2015


Another thing: one thing this rule seems to clarify is that the FAA intends to take the necessary steps require drones to abide by TFRs and avoid flying in its designated no-fly zones. But why in the world is this the case? TFRs are notoriously broad and problematic, and show clear signs of cronyism and paid influence in their implementation; for the past few years every Super Bowl has had a TFR, for heaven's sake.

I mean: if the point of drone regulation by the FAA is to prevent drones from interfering with commercial air traffic, then why in the world would drones be banned in areas with TFRs? There is no commercial or civilian air traffic in those areas! So they can't claim that this is for the safety of air traffic. It's just clearly an extension of the power grabs that have been happening since 9/11.
posted by koeselitz at 7:41 AM on December 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


There is no commercial or civilian air traffic in those areas! So they can't claim that this is for the safety of air traffic.

Yes, but in an emergency situation, commercial and civilian air traffic are usually kept out to make way for emergency services, and nobody wants a thousand drones buzzing around the super bowl.

Did they abuse their authority in Ferguson? Absolutely. Does that make the general idea of these regulations a bad idea? Absolutely not.

You guys are starting to sound like a bunch of Republicans.
posted by schmod at 7:47 AM on December 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


koeselitz, I think you wildly overstate the abuse of TFRs. Yes the Ferguson case was reprehensible. And I find the Disney TFR and sports TFRs overreaching, they exist mostly to protect businesses from the threat of banner tows and unauthorized photography. But those are exceptions.

Most TFRs are truly for safety. They're issued over wildfires, for instance, to make room for firefighting aircraft. Sometimes they're issued to make room for drones or other unusual aircraft. There's a frequent TFR over Beale Air Force Base for the Global Hawk drones, for instance, and sometimes TFRs off the California coast for balloon and rocket experiments. There's also the big TFR that follows the President around. I think it's reasonable to expect commercial drone operators to avoid TFRs.
posted by Nelson at 7:58 AM on December 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


Well, it is literally illegal to fly a half-pound drone anywhere in Washington, DC now – doesn't that seem a bit, er, overbroad?
posted by koeselitz at 8:00 AM on December 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


Vis some analysis that the quoted 951 incidents is from the broadest possible reading of pilot incident reports. And the AMA's source for the report.

I mean, this is group of people who have been reporting mysterious lights in the skies since the mid 50's - used to be UFOs, now it's the drones. *cough* (No, I don't think it's all collusion and mysterious lights and whatnot, but I think there's a risk of being uncritical when accepting numbers without context.)

I mean, don't get me wrong, I agree that people need better understanding of the risks and rewards of RC flight, and I'm wholly in support of working towards that end. And even registration isn't necessarily the wrong direction, I just dunno what is really useful for recreational users. Commercial use is no doubt being affected in ways that seem to be designed to support the horse & buggy market.

("Only the good law abiding drone pilots will register, leaving the bad guy with a drone able to commit their nefarious deeds!" Oh lord, could you echo the gun lobby more, guys?)
posted by Kyol at 8:04 AM on December 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


I agree about DC, but you need to talk to the War on Terror folks about that one. It's very difficult to fly any sort of aircraft manned or unmanned over DC; the only reason Reagan National still exists is congressmen like their convenient airport. DC is a special case.
posted by Nelson at 8:04 AM on December 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


Maybe I'm being dense, but I don't see why drones should be allowed unlimited use of the airspace. I mean, I get that there are hobbyists. But every random joe being able to afford and fly one, it seems like it'll be the nuisance factor of jet-skis or 4-wheelers multiplied many times over -- they can buzz into your backyard, follow you around harassingly, or crash out of the sky without an obvious operator nearby, etc. It seems like establishing a regulatory framework is a really good idea, both from an aviation safety standpoint and from a people on the ground just going about their business standpoint too.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:12 AM on December 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


Nelson: “I agree about DC, but you need to talk to the War on Terror folks about that one. It's very difficult to fly any sort of aircraft manned or unmanned over DC. It's a special case.”

I've got you there, but you need to recognize that the "War on Terror folks" are the FAA here – or at least close enough to FAA to get them to issue those rules.

Look, I am not saying all TFRs are terrible, or that the FAA needs to be abolished, or anything like that. I'm not even saying the FAA is surely headed down the path of over-restrictive governmental crackdowns. But I am saying that the past 15 years have seen a distinct uptick in the number of questionable rulings the FAA has issued, both at the behest of "the War on Terror folks" and of commercial interests with enough influence to pull the right strings. I can imagine that turning in an unfortunate direction if major police departments decide to start working more closely with the FAA; we're already fighting a pitched battle over the legality of photographing and filming the cops, and any inroad they can gain in that battle they're likely to take if they can. It would be really, really cool if the public had an easier forum in which to question and challenge FAA rulings.

Sigh. Yeah, I guess that makes me "sound like a Republican," but whatever. I just think it becomes very easy for a lot of us (especially us white folks) to completely forget that the major problem in this country is the overreach of the executive and of police departments leading to en masse imprisonment on a scale the world has never seen before. We're very cavalier about giving cops new reasons to arrest people. Our first priority has to be stopping that, and ending the vast injustice that the prison system represents. In my mind, that should color our decisions in almost every arena of public policy. I choose freedom and justice over safety, and I think it's important for America at large to start doing so regularly.
posted by koeselitz at 8:15 AM on December 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


I choose freedom and justice over safety,

Freedom for who, exactly? You might be surprised about how other people feel about how free they feel with all sorts of buzzing cameras zipping around, for purposes unknown.
posted by NoxAeternum at 9:40 AM on December 15, 2015 [5 favorites]


I don't see why drones should be allowed unlimited use of the airspace.
That's the default. New things start off legal, and don't need to be "allowed". Adding restrictions as problems arise is, of course, sensible, but starting off with the attitude that new things should be restricted by default seems unhealthy to me.
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 9:47 AM on December 15, 2015


NoxAeternum: “Freedom for who, exactly? You might be surprised about how other people feel about how free they feel with all sorts of buzzing cameras zipping around, for purposes unknown.”

I would really love to know if this is a problem people are seriously having right now. Is it? Are there places where people find themselves constantly harassed by drones bobbing around? It really might be a thing – maybe it's silly of me to think it's not. But I honestly don't anticipate it being that problematic. There are already laws about privacy, about flying drones into people's backyards and homes, etc. If we're talking about public places, if it becomes a safety thing, yeah, we can talk – and obviously I foresee problems with constant photographing of people in public (the r/Creepshots thing, etc), but I'm not sure those problems are drone-specific. As it is, I'd just rather err on the side of not cracking down in things.

In general, I anticipate the enforcement of laws against drones being much more problematic than the drones themselves. But then, I'm a guy who thinks we should abolish prisons. So maybe I'm not the one to be talking to about this.
posted by koeselitz at 10:27 AM on December 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


I would really love to know if this is a problem people are seriously having right now.

Yes, it is - look up the "drone sniper" case for one recent example.
posted by NoxAeternum at 10:59 AM on December 15, 2015


Isn't that a drone with a gun attached to it?
posted by koeselitz at 11:03 AM on December 15, 2015


Broadly interpreted some kind of licensing for drones might make sense, but the current situation in which you need a pilot's license for commercial drone flight is nonsensical: how does learning to fly a Cessna or a hot air balloon qualify you to fly a quadcopter, and vice-versa, why should you need to know how to fly a small manned aircraft in order to remotely control a drone?
posted by Pyry at 11:12 AM on December 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


No, it's a legal case where an individual who was dealing with repeated incursions onto his land would up dealing with the drone via birdshot. They had tried to prosecute him on endangerment charges, but they wound up being dismissed.

And why is it nonsensical for commercial drone operators to be licensed? We're talking about individuals who would be operating larger drones, most likely in populated areas. Why wouldn't such an operator not be licensed?
posted by NoxAeternum at 11:28 AM on December 15, 2015


I agree that requiring a pilot license for commercial drone use is too onerous, but I can also kind of understand why they started with that requirement: It was actually a relaxation of the previous guidelines, which had outlawed all commercial drone flights (except for rare exemptions). It ensures that you have someone flying the thing that knows about airspace rules, even knows what a TFR is, and is familiar with general aviation safety.

I don't think the FAA is going to change anytime soon into a fast-moving organization, so given the reality of being a conservative & slow group, I guess they could be doing worse. I hope that we'll find that drones don't cause major safety issues, and the pressure to use them for commerce will eventually lead the FAA to loosen the guidelines.
posted by jjwiseman at 11:31 AM on December 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


"Public will be able to search drone database".
The general public will be able to search through a new U.S. drone database, which requires all recreational drone owners to begin registering later this month.

The public will only be able to search the database by using a drone operator’s unique identification number that must be stamped on individual drones.

A search of a specific ID number would produce the name and address of the drone’s owner. The public, however, would not be able to search solely by a drone operator’s name or address.

[...]

The FAA said it is requiring an email address with registration — something the task force recommended making only optional — so the agency can “quickly disseminate safety and educational materials to these sUAS owners, in furtherance of the FAA’s safety and education objectives for unmanned aircraft operations.”

The FAA will maintain the database and all information will be available to law enforcement, the agency said.

The agency is still determining whether the drone registration information should be maintained indefinitely or whether a retention period should be imposed.
posted by jjwiseman at 11:35 AM on December 15, 2015


I don't think requiring a license is necessarily too onerous, but that license should be specific to the type of drone being flown. You shouldn't be able to fly a drone with a hot air balloon license, or need one for that matter. From the verge article:

According to Schulman, this is a common workaround for uncertified 333 holders. "The 'creative' approach seems to be to find retired pilots in the area and to offer them compensation to participate in the operation and to learn how to operate the UAS," he explained, adding that he considers it to be a counter-productive arrangement. "It means the person with the least experience at operating the UAS is the one required by the FAA to be in command."

A retired air balloon pilot with no drone experience is legally allowed to fly one commercially, whereas someone with hundreds of hours experience flying drones can't unless they learn to fly and get a license for some other kind of aircraft.
posted by Pyry at 11:45 AM on December 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


how does learning to fly a Cessna or a hot air balloon qualify you to fly a quadcopter

The theory is the pilot's license also demonstrates you understand airspace rules and other aviation regulations. A basic pilot's license requires passing a written test that demonstrates some of that understanding, also an oral exam where you are quizzed more on aviation regulations. There's always one open book question that no one could possibly rememeber the answer to, so that you demonstrate your ability to look things up in the FARs.

What's dumb is that learning the rules and regulations is only about 20% of the training required to be a pilot. 50% of the training is learning how to land an airplane without bending it and the other 30% is generally operating an aircraft safely. Drone pilots need that first 20%, sure, and they need about the same amount of training learning to operate a UAV properly. The other 4x for a pilot's license is superfluous. (It's also expensive; it costs about $20,000 in training and plane rental time to get a pilot's license in the US.)

jjwiseman is right that this is coming from the FAA's incredibly conservative position of not allowing anyone at all to fly UAVs for commercial purposes. At least now there's some path, but the requirements are still too demanding. If licensing is the endgame they really should come up with a UAV-specific license. The ground instructor certificate is a possible model for a sort of "pilot-lite" license.
posted by Nelson at 11:50 AM on December 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


> they'll fall pretty fast

While looking at quadcopters under & just over 250g, I ran across Hubsan's Parachute Recovery System "Its spring-loaded design deploys instantly whenever the X4 Pro tilts 80° or more." Lands upside-down to spare the camera.

> sampling of toy quads & drones

HobbyKing lets you sort Ready-To-Fly multi rotors by weight
posted by morganw at 11:53 AM on December 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


Seems to me that the logical thing for any commercial drones (e.g. Amazon I guess) is to get drone people talking to the driverless car people. Then require all drones, commercial and private, to have software onboard that automatically avoids 'shipping lanes' or whatever the appropriate aviation term is, as well as other drones/piloted aircraft/birds/whatever.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:11 PM on December 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


Well, it is literally illegal to fly a half-pound drone anywhere in Washington, DC now – doesn't that seem a bit, er, overbroad?

I don't think it's overly broad, at least for for D.C., given the centralized collection of U.S. government buildings, foreign embassies, and the infrastructure that supports them all. I'm not talking so much about them being used by terrorists, though you may be surprised what a tiny drone could do to things like power lines, telephone cables, and cell phone networks with the addition of various tiny payloads.

I see a significant part of it more about overall security and avoiding diplomatic issues in general. If there were no restrictions on drones in DC now and in the future, what would stop them from eventually becoming the to go-to tool of any person, government, or group, from a hired operator looking for dirt on the movements and activities of a government's employees, diplomats, or politicians? Those assigned to security roles would have no way to tell if a drone is harmless or a potential threat. For an 'accidental' example, some teenager flying a drone in a park gets too close to an ambassador and their security entourage walking down the street (which looks like just a bunch of dudes in suits to him), and carelessly buzzes them or some other reckless maneuver, and suddenly the bodyguards go into full-on defense mode, perhaps shots are fired, and you have yourself an international incident. A 'deliberate' example would be one person or group using them to harass and provoke a particular embassy or politician they have a beef with (anything from "those embassy guys are always taking up the parking spaces on this street" to "this is my little way to get back at country X for their actions against country Y"), or as a means to escalate tensions between two opposing sides ("country A is in tense negotiations with country B, and country C wants to disrupt it, so let's scare the hell out of country A's people and families with some random drone flybys, and they'll naturally suspect country B").

The problem is that there is no way to tell if a drone is a harmless toy or something more sinister, and given the unique concentration of political and government elements in D.C. compared to the rest of the cities in the U.S., restricting their use seems a logical thing to do.

None of these regulations will stop someone from using them illegally or maliciously, and the FAA is not naive enough to think they will. What they are designed to do is at least attempt to minimize the dangers from improper, reckless, or incompetent use, and clearly state to the public that these devices are not just any old toy, and registering, regulating, and setting up penalties for misuse help to establish that separation between 'toy' and 'aircraft' in the general population.

I would be against a similar ban of drones in other cities, but the ban in D.C. seems reasonable to me, at least for the near future. Overall, the regulations may not be perfect, but more reasonable than I would have expected. It seems a wise thing to do as remotely controlled drones and aircraft expand out from being something primarily in the realm of the hobbyist to being used by anybody with a hundred bucks or so to spend.
posted by chambers at 12:21 PM on December 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


A search of a specific ID number would produce the name and address of the drone’s owner. The public, however, would not be able to search solely by a drone operator’s name or address.
for ID from 1 to 999999999 {
    personal_data = lookup(ID);
    print(personal_data, "owns drone with ID", ID);
}
posted by Rangi at 2:14 PM on December 15, 2015 [7 favorites]


Or you can wait until PRC hackers post a database dump.
posted by b1tr0t at 4:48 PM on December 15, 2015


It's worth noting the Airman registry of people with US pilot's licenses is remarkably open. The default search is open to anyone and is searchable by last name. The results include pilot's full name, address, medical status, and certificate status. There's an opt out pilots can take, at least for address. I don't mind this openness myself, I think open-by-default is a good stance for government to take. But I have a feeling a lot of pilots don't know this data is public. Airplane ownership records are similarly public.
posted by Nelson at 5:19 PM on December 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


chambers: “The problem is that there is no way to tell if a drone is a harmless toy or something more sinister, and given the unique concentration of political and government elements in D.C. compared to the rest of the cities in the U.S., restricting their use seems a logical thing to do.”

If this weren't the TSA's favorite line of logic, it would make me feel better.
posted by koeselitz at 5:23 PM on December 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


If this weren't the TSA's favorite line of logic, it would make me feel better.

I agree with that. It surprised me a bit too that I actually ended up coming across a narrow situation where such a reason actually seemed a reasonable argument to me. I have a strong dislike of outright blanket bans of things such as this in general. I'd strongly oppose such a citywide ban anywhere else in the US, and D.C. is the only city I could see myself defending such a policy.

Of course governments around the world are investing piles of money into mini-drone R&D for use specifically for surveillance and other applications in urban environments that couldn't care less about these new FAA regs. Such espionage activity has always been outside the law and addressing the concern over that class of drone technology should clearly be the responsibility of other agencies.

D.C.'s unique situation (as I stated before) makes it a perfect place for drone usage to quickly get out of hand, because they could be incredibly useful for so many different groups and individuals, some of which are in direct opposition to each other. One embassy includes them in building, transport, and security details, so other embassies follow suit. Private security firms offer them up as part of their standard packages, and also offer anti-drone drones as well. Political action groups then have them at all demonstrations to keep an eye on the police, while police use them to monitor the protests, large gatherings, and other events. Political parties get them for when they want to keep tabs on who their opposition is meeting with (in an official capacity or not), in hopes to find something that will get them an advantage over the other side. Then you have the rogue elements thrown in using them, seeing themselves as self-appointed watchdogs of their elected officials, seeking out some action that can be posted with no context to the world to shame any perceived, improper behavior, but it's on the web and while there was nothing actually improper, the damage has been done.

Now take all those groups, which would only be a portion of the total, and put them in the same town at once. Then add in all the regular folk having some fun, some doing it safely, some recklessly. Some of those groups I listed above each have seemingly legitimate reasons for using them, others not so much. How the hell are you going to be able to manage such a situation, and know which are the 'legit' drones and which aren't, day in and day out? How does the city respond when drones fail and cause pedestrian and car accidents, not to mention the possibility of creating political incidents, intended or not?

Finding the right level of regulation that's fair to all parties involved is better done outside of D.C., then bring it in once most of the legal and safety kinks have been worked out. There's too many ways for it to get out of hand in D.C. and those incidents being shown as a prime reason that it should be banned in all major cities, and we never get a chance to find a balanced solution.

I'd much rather have the D.C. ban in place for now because it actually helps (at least to some degree) to keep the people in congress from overreacting and forcing through a ban to address their own fears of drones and use it for political points. Nothing would guarantee an extremely restrictive set of laws rushed through out of fear more than a quick succession of congresspeople having their careers and reputations ruined (justly or not) by drone footage. It probably wouldn't even need to be as big as that. Once a dozen or so congresspeople notice drones outside their homes or on their way to work every day for a week or so, and they start to suspect they are being watched all the time, they'll have the FAA director before a subcommittee demanding more control faster than you can say "overbroad regulation."
posted by chambers at 8:58 PM on December 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


My husband flies RC aircraft. This is ridiculous. When fishing licenses were invented, fishers weren't given a two-month deadline to get one or else be criminals--especially not criminals with fines of up to $250,000 for failure to file paperwork on time.
“We expect hundreds of thousands of model unmanned aircraft will be purchased this holiday season,” said FAA Administrator Huerta. “Registration gives us the opportunity to educate these new airspace users before they fly so they know the airspace rules and understand they are accountable to the public for flying responsibly.”
(Emphasis added.) Um... you'll be educating the new owners of "hundreds of thousands" of model airplanes between Dec 21 and whenever they start flying them--which, for many, will be about 11 AM on Dec 25? And when will you be "educating" the ~185,000 current members of the AMA, and the estimated several million unregistered hobby flyers who aren't "new airspace users?"

The press release doesn't indicate any penalties for flying someone else's plane. (Oh good; they're not requiring federal registration before you can teach your buddy to fly.) Since the reg form isn't available yet, I can't see if there's a problem with borrowing someone else's plane. People must be 13 or older to register... I foresee a number of families declaring that their 9-year-old actually owns the planes, and therefore those planes don't need to be registered.

We'll be registering, slapping ID numbers on my husband's dozens of planes (hm, the strict scale modelers are going to have fits over this), and supporting the AMA in their attempts to get the legislation adjusted by the exception for modelers that they negotiated just a few months ago. I think we'll forego the convenience of web registration, though; I bet an email address is required for that, and I prefer government contact to be on paper. Also, I love the idea of flooding the reg office with mountains of paperwork that I'm damn sure they didn't allocate extra man-hours to process. Maybe I'll send it via certified mail with return receipt, so we've got some proof we sent it in, no matter how long it takes to process.

I suspect this is, in addition to security theater, an attempt to destroy the RC aircraft hobby and industry--after all, when a parent looks at "model airplane park-flyer" or "new stereo" as gift for their teenager... the stereo doesn't require federal registration.

Just what we need! FEWER hobbies that get people outside and active in their local communities!
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 9:26 AM on December 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


ErisLordFreedom, some of your points are covered in the (actually very good) FAA FAQ:
  • If the owner is less than 13 years of age, then a person who is at least 13 years of age must register the unmanned aircraft.
  • If you let someone borrow your drone they must have your registration in their possession.
I don't think what seems to be an easy web-based registration system with a $5 (currently refundable) fee is intended to kill, or will kill, a (typically kind of expensive) hobby.

It also doesn't look like security theater to me. This registration requirement pretty explicitly has little to do with stopping terrorists. From the FAQ: "A registration requirement encourages a culture of accountability and responsibility," and "...registration establishes a shared understanding that operating this type of aircraft for business or pleasure comes with certain responsibilities and expectations and that the public will be watching for and reporting bad actors, just as they do today for other safety and security-related concerns. Registration also enables us to educate UAS owners on safe operations."
posted by jjwiseman at 10:13 AM on December 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


And I guess as far as educating people who get non-toy drones for Christmas, doesn't it seem better to start now rather than later?
posted by jjwiseman at 10:16 AM on December 16, 2015


My thoughts on this would be much more negative if the registration was per-UAS, rather than per-pilot. One registration covers all your current and future UASes.

Those thoughts would be far more positive if the FAA were only imposing the requirement on those who wish to fly either close to an airport or above 150-200 feet AGL. Also if the near-an-airport ban on flights only applied when the drone would be flying off the ends of a runway or high enough to actually present a danger. There are plenty of airports in this country where airspace near the airport and near ground level is uncontrolled.

The real solution to the drone danger fears is to make commercial drone manufacturers include either an (ADS-B) UAT-out radio or a full on TCAS transponder on UAS that are large enough to pose a significant threat to manned aircraft in a collision. That way, controllers and pilots would know where the obstacles actually are. IIRC, there is already provision in the standard for ADS-B on the UAT frequency to accommodate battery powered transmit-only ADS-B squitters. To help prevent channel congestion, they could be required to only transmit when flying within a few miles of an airport or above 200 feet AGL.
posted by wierdo at 12:12 PM on December 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


I love the idea of putting collision avoidance in drones, but it's expensive. FAA licensed transponders for airplanes are typically $3000+. $2000 for a barebones UAT-out only component. Over in Europe the cheapest FLARM units are about $1000, which gives some idea of price for a less-regulated similar component. And it really has to be paired with accurate navigation equipment so the data it publishes isn't junk.
posted by Nelson at 1:06 PM on December 16, 2015


Congress has given NASA the task of figuring out how to safely manage drone traffic, called "Unmanned Aircraft Systems Traffic Management" (UTM). I haven't been following the UTM stuff super closely, but I think the current thinking is that it will include a combination of ADS-B in (which is probably cheaper--but there are also projects like Google's low-cost ADS-B transponder), sending position info over cellular networks, and "airspace service providers" who will provide deconfliction services for flights. (See, for example, this overview.)

In any case, NASA is on it, and there's a ton of activity around it right now which includes the big commercial interests like Google and Amazon, etc. There's lots of info at http://utm.arc.nasa.gov/.

I've heard that one of the initial challenges was getting NASA to take seriously the sheer number of vehicles that one Amazon warehouse would be flying...

It'll be interesting to see what the UTM requirements become, especially with respect to smaller vehicles.
posted by jjwiseman at 2:09 PM on December 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


It also doesn't look like security theater to me.

Not at all, it's just plain old bureaucracy theater. I don't think the FAA is so desperate for money that the few million dollars of registration fees will make any difference. So take them at their word, the point is to instill a sense of "safety and responsibility" in drone operators by having them participate in a symbolic ritual of paperwork.
posted by sfenders at 3:31 PM on December 16, 2015


Kind of a segue but one of my biggest pet peeves as a DC area resident is that drones are completely illegal anywhere within 30 miles of Reagan National Airport, yet they are on sale EVERYWHERE and no one has any signage that let's people know it's illegal to fly here. And sadly, probably won't change anytime in the near future (if ever). :(

Good, because it's a fucking stupid and offensive rule. Despite some security hand-wringing above,
  • The ban zone isn't just DC, it extends out into Virginia and Maryland a significant distance. You might note the District is constitutionally defined as such Dis­trict (not exceeding ten Miles square), which means a 30 mile diameter (2*pi*15^2 = 1413.45) is capable of holding the actual District's 68 square miles twenty times over.
  • These supposedly way more important than everyone else unique concentration of political and government elements in the district are a minority of the land and mostly concentrated in the pie wedge just a few miles north of DCA. The rest is the same businesses and human beings - 700,000 or so at last count - who want to live their lives the same as everyone else. Which includes goofy wee little toys.
Seriously, this is what the 30 mile diameter looks like over DCA. Ever driven through that area of Maryland over there on 295 South and East of DCA? The section of Alexandria south of the beltway down below DCA? This is a "security" measure that makes the no liquids or butter knives on a plane restriction look like the height of reasonable.
posted by phearlez at 8:52 AM on December 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


Worse, I read that as a 30 mile radius, not a 30 mile diameter.
posted by Kyol at 8:56 AM on December 17, 2015


30 miles is about 15 minutes in a little plane, or 3–5 minutes in a bigger plane. It's the standard size for the TFR that surrounds the president. I've always assumed that gives enough time for a threat to be identified and shot down (with the flaming wreckage landing on the houses below.) It makes no sense as a protection against a small camera drone.

FWIW there were at least two cases of drones being flown over the White House this last year. Not to mention the guy who landed his gyrocopter on the Capitol Lawn, which revealed some surprising holes in the military's surveillance capabilities.
posted by Nelson at 9:24 AM on December 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


It may as well be 30 miles in radius, it's so stupid already. At least a 30 mi diameter would also include IAD off to the NW and you could pretend that mattered, as if there's not already interdictions in the "upside-down wedding cake" shape that all FAA controlled airports have.

Look at the FAA information for DCA, compiled here. Some of the noted obstructions that pilots somehow manage to cope with:

253 ft. trees, 9600 ft. from runway, 37:1 slope to clear
180 ft. tower, lighted, 7700 ft. from runway, 1600 ft. left of centerline, 41:1 slope to clear

There are six other airports - primarily general aviation serving - inside that interdiction zone.

KVKX - Potomac Airfield (7 nm SE)
W32 - Washington Executive Airport/Hyde Field (8 nm SE)
KADW - Joint Base Andrews (8 nm E)
KCGS - College Park Airport (9 nm NE)
KDAA - Davison Army Airfield (11 nm SW)
W00 - Freeway Airport (14 nm NE)
2W5 - Maryland Airport (15 nm S)


Those last two might be outside the zone; I assume this stupid drone rules uses nautical miles as well but I refuse to look up the specifics and it's so ill-considered maybe they're mixing.

Check the approach plates. Here's the one for coming in from the south and it indicates how high the plane is going to be at various distances. At a mile from the airport it's at least 630 feet in the air. Two full football fields. Ever flown even a medium size drone, something you'd pay several hundred dollars for? It's hard to see it that far away. And that's the minimum right there, on approach, not what they're really doing The minimum safe altitude on the FAA's docs say it's 2500 feet for the 25nm around DCA.

I'm not advocating anyone go over the Daingerfield island or Hains Point and fly their drones; there's clearly reasonable operating procedures in the vicinity around an airport. But this zone as it stands says someone over in Silver Spring, all the way on the opposite side of the district - which is already an interdiction zone for airplane flyover - and 7 miles from the White House and most other operational buildings, can't fly a shitty little drone that weighs less than a softball. But they can drive their big ol' panel van right down 16th Street. Come on.
posted by phearlez at 9:34 AM on December 17, 2015


Wow, this is a huge deal: DJI announced today, with respect to their drone geofencing technology that refuses to fly e.g. in Washington D.C. or near airports, that they've decided that "...a system governing the use of technology that relies upon geographic location alone is not the right approach."

Basically, they're changing their system so that users will be able to override the geofencing restrictions.

Video of the announcement by Brendan Schulman.

I think this is awesome, and is a very bold and very thoughtful change by DJI. They're the number one consumer drone company in the world, and they've unilaterally decided to give customers more freedom, even as society is kind of freaking out about drones.

The announcement includes a lot of excellent examples of why strict geofencing is a bad idea: This isn't something we do with other technologies (and if we, e.g., disabled cell phone texting within 3 feet of a steering wheel we could probably save thousands of lives per year); geofencing can't tell if you're flying indoors so sensitive GPS receivers will sometimes refuse to let you fly, e.g., in your house or in a hangar near an airport or in the area of a TFR; DJI drones are frequently used in emergency situations that could be the subject of civilian drone flight restrictions. Schulman specifically talked about how a 5 mile radius is actually quite huge.
posted by jjwiseman at 3:34 PM on December 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


And the AMA is advising members to hold off on registering with the FAA. They seem to be upset that the FAA didn't take their advice, and they're angling for a "streamlined" (waived?) registration for AMA members.
posted by jjwiseman at 3:42 PM on December 17, 2015


jjwiseman, it'll work to kill a hobby that currently has no age limits--at model "fly-ins," they have games and contests for children who can barely walk. (Not flying RC planes--simple balsa-construct rubberband flyers.)

Right now, adults can hand their radio and plane to a child, and talk them through their first flight with a starter plane. (Usually made of foam, so it can survive many crashes.) This new law means, nope, no letting the kid who approaches you at the park fly the plane for a round or two unless you brought your registration paperwork with you.

A $5 "you must register with the government before you start" barrier is enough to kill a lot of hobbies; requiring it from teenagers--who don't have a credit card--means they don't just need parental consent; they need active parental cooperation. The 12-year-old can still buy a model plane with his birthday money, but he can't fly it until and unless a parent has time and a few spare dollars to register it--and is willing to put their name on a federal registry. Foster kids? Forget it. Even though starter planes, especially park flyers and even smaller backyard flyers, are cheap, no adult is going to hand over a credit card to put the kid into a federal registry of plane owners... or become the official owner themselves, for kids under 13.

"Visit the local flight club fundraiser; win a plane in the raffle"... and find an internet connection and a credit card to register the plane before flying it.

This is taking a formerly child-friendly hobby and moving it firmly to "no one without a credit card admitted."
Name some other hobbies open to 8-year-olds that require federal registration before starting.

The Academy of Model Aeronautics, "AMA" to model pilots, already does the kind of education and outreach this is supposed to do. The AMA fought for allowing pilots to use their AMA registration instead of requiring an entirely new number, filed with a new gov't office, but the FAA refused to budge. AMA membership comes with insurance for non-members: if an AMA pilot crashes his plane into someone's car or house (or person), the AMA covers the damages, as long as the pilot was following the AMA's safety rules... and sometimes if the pilot wasn't, because the AMA is invested in communities tolerating their local modelers.

If a person isn't directly involved in the hobby/sport (there's some debate about which of those it is), it's easy to miss the several decades of community interaction, the science-and-tech skills kids learn from it, the safety guidelines that every modeling club practices, the outreach to new pilots who aren't part of any club, and the efforts all responsible pilots put into educating the general public.

This is a ham-fisted attempt to assuage public fears about "drones," not an effort to provide education or safety standards. And it's a direct violation of Section 336 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, otherwise known as the "Special Rule for Model Aircraft;" the AMA points out that "the FAA is prohibited from promulgating any new rules for recreational users operating within the safety guidelines of a community-based organization (CBO)."
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 3:58 PM on December 17, 2015 [2 favorites]




ErisLordFreedom: " This new law means, nope, no letting the kid who approaches you at the park fly the plane for a round or two unless you brought your registration paperwork with you. "

Is this really a huge burden? Wouldn't you just keep copies of your registration with your R/C equipment or next to your driver's license? Heck stick a copy in the battery compartment of the controller and whomever has control has a copy of the registration.

The license rules sound essentially the same as apply to fishing here (provincial not federal though) except the license is $35 annually instead of $5/3 years.

Though it's too bad the small government types have forced the FAA to charge a fee.
posted by Mitheral at 6:18 PM on December 17, 2015


And the AMA is advising members to hold off on registering with the FAA. They seem to be upset that the FAA didn't take their advice,

It's worth mentioning, also, that the FAA has repeatedly attempted to ignore its obligations with regards to restricting drones (its obligations with regards to writing any new rules, in fact - basic everyday legal obligations as to how they re supposed to do their business) so taking a position that input has not been considered is more believable than usual here. They repeatedly made assertions about restrictions despite no codified FAR rules and they have drawn commercial distinctions that included news gathering operations, very probably in violation of First Amendment restrictions.

Commercial purpose restriction is a thing in general aviation and a fairly reasonable one; puttering around as a hobby in your small plane is okay, taking money from someone else to take them somewhere is not. As a bright line this serves a pretty sensible purpose of making sure folks who ferry passengers are held to a higher standard. From a drone taking pictures standpoint it doesn't make a lot of sense.
posted by phearlez at 9:12 AM on December 18, 2015


I assume the reason they are treating commercial UAVs differently is that commercial use will be more intensive. Bobby and his $90 quadcopter are going to fly that thing three times between Christmas and New Years and then forget about it. But commercial drones are likely to be airborne 6+ hours a day, eventually 24 hours a day. And be larger, and range further. It's worth considering it seriously from a regulatory point of view.
posted by Nelson at 10:01 AM on December 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


You might read the friendly article for why this is specious and problematic in first amendment activities, though perhaps making up some shit without input from outside minds is a good approximation of FAA methodology.
posted by phearlez at 8:45 PM on December 18, 2015


It's not just media and first amendment activities that are handled somewhat oddly under the FAA rules. For the past couple years it's been a popular hobby among drone enthusiasts and the industry to try to figure out what might be and might not be considered to be commercial activity by the FAA. Even as 3D Robotics was telling farmers they could buy a cheap, small drone and fly it over the land as part of the big push for precision agriculture applications, people close to the FAA were saying that would probably not be allowed because it would be considered to be commercial activity.

I'm guessing the FAA's motivations are pretty close to Nelson's assumption, but one thing the FAA has pretty consistently done with drones is screw up the details in weird ways. When they approved a Section 333 exemption for a paper airplane, I don't think that was part of a well thought out, nefarious plan to kill the paper airplane hobby—I think they were flailing a bit with the difficulty of coming up with good, useful definitions and dealing with the difficulty of staying consistent with the earlier, rushed, positions.
posted by jjwiseman at 7:47 AM on December 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


Mitheral: "Though it's too bad the small government types have forced the FAA to charge a fee."

Oh yeah. Know who else supported $5 registration fees?
posted by schmod at 6:24 AM on December 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


“Here’s the Reason the FAA’s Drone Registration System Doesn’t Make Sense,” Brian Benchoff, Hack A Day, 21 December 2015
posted by ob1quixote at 10:03 AM on December 21, 2015


And the registration is still not functional. I wonder if they've gotten enough pushback from the AMA and other organizations to think twice, or if this is just the usual tech hijinks.
posted by Kyol at 10:10 AM on December 21, 2015


I'd assume incompetence. Everything drone with the FAA has been half-assed and behind schedule for years now. It seems they're not going to make their congressional deadline on commercial licensing either. The idea that they've assed up the registration system seems par for the course.
posted by phearlez at 10:33 AM on December 21, 2015


Hah, so far as I can tell it's "What's your name and address and billing method thanks here's your ID."

That's a complete failure, in my book. Do a little "I have read and understand that I share the airspace and my UAS could interfere with other users of this airspace" and it might at least help a bit with education. Just getting names and addresses and a solemn pinky swear to put identifying marks on a UAS? mmmm-hmmm, ok.
posted by Kyol at 1:40 PM on December 21, 2015


Registration worked for me.

Kyol, the registration does include what you're talking about: a little safety guidance section with a "I have read, understand and intend to follow the safety guidance." [screenshot].
Acknowledgement of Safety Guidance
  • I will fly below 400 feet
  • I will fly within visual line of sight
  • I will be aware of FAA airspace requirements http://www.faa.gov/go/uastfr
  • I will not fly directly over people
  • I will not fly over stadiums and sports events
  • I will not fly near emergency response efforts such as fires
  • I will not fly near aircraft, especially near airports
  • I will not fly under the infuence
I appreciate the quick attempt at education, though these guidelines are not in the regulations, and so it's weird that you have to agree that you intend to follow them.
posted by jjwiseman at 4:21 PM on December 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


I think the Hackaday post might be more accurately titled "Reason #221 that regulating drones is difficult", or "Wow, what a mess we've made!"

The Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 prevents the FAA from regulating model aircraft up to 55 lbs., which... might be too big. The act exists, so it should be followed, but maybe it's not a good law.
posted by jjwiseman at 4:31 PM on December 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Ah sure, that's behind the "Checkout" link that I wasn't going to click on pending the AMA. That makes sense, FAA UI Guys.
posted by Kyol at 6:50 AM on December 22, 2015


I think this hackaday post makes a couple good points: "Idiots are More Dangerous than Criminals" and "This Can Save the Hobby".
posted by jjwiseman at 7:37 AM on December 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


The Economist: Suddenly, there are drones everywhere
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:24 PM on December 29, 2015




I'm sort of amused that my AMA ID is 6 digits, and I think they're only up to 7, maybe 8 now? And my FCC callsign is also 6 alphanumerics, a third of which have fixed meaning. But, y'know, easy enough to broadcast and label.

My FAA ID? 10 digit alphanumeric string. Oy. I'm looking for cheap vinyl labels to stick on my quads because there's no way I'm going to get 22 letters and my name on some of my smaller stuff if I write it out by hand.
posted by Kyol at 9:47 PM on January 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


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