FAA Moves Ahead on Efforts to Bring Some Order to Drone Flights
One notable difference between what's being discussed for drone rules and the new rules for model aircraft is that the latter can operate within 5 miles of an airport, as long as the use is properly coordinated. Currently, the FAA is allowing UAS operations for specific purposes, including activities such as emergency services, antenna inspections and film making. Other operations for commercial drones are allowed on a case-by-case basis. Hobby and recreational drones are already allowed to operate with restrictions that include line-of-sight operations, altitude restrictions of 500 feet and a 5 mile distance from an airport. The fact that the rules for model aircraft have been officially released is encouraging news for everyone waiting for the final rules for drone operations. But perhaps more promising is the hiring of two senior executives who will be responsible for integrating UAS operations into the U.S. airspace.An FAA spokesperson told eWEEK that the agency is working on getting the small UAS rule out as quickly as possible. While the FAA won't discuss the contents of the new rule until it's published, it's safe to assume that it will closely resemble the model aircraft rule, and that it will closely follow the NPRM. Two things you can expect with the new small UAS rule when it comes out are that fully autonomous drones will not be allowed for now and that Amazon won't be getting its delivery drones right away. The reasons why autonomous and delivery drones won't be in the new regulations at first are due to several factors. First, the necessary see-and-avoid technology required for operation in U.S. airspace simply isn't available yet. One of the things that pilots learn in their training is how to look outside the cockpit for other aircraft and what to do when they're spotted. Right now, the cameras aren't good enough, and the data links aren't reliable enough to do this alone. Another reason that's equally important is that drone operators don't have a history of working within the safety rules. Model aircraft operators have worked with both air traffic control and within the national airspace rules for decades with good results, which is why the FAA is allowing them to fly the way they do. Drone operators, unfortunately, are as known for flouting or ignoring the rules as much as anything else. While there are hundreds of drone operators who do follow all the rules and operate safely, there are also many that buzz commercial flights or interrupt tennis tournaments, and that behavior concerns the FAA. It should concern the FAA because aviation safety is their job. Unfortunately, too many drone operators have failed to adopt a culture of safety or even of common sense, and until they do, drone operations are is going to be held on a very short leash.
Marke "Hoot" Gibson has been involved with UAS planning as a consultant to the FAA. Earl Lawrence has been an FAA executive in charge of small airplane rules and certification. He was also a vice president of the Experimental Aircraft Association (the membership of which includes at this eWEEK columnist).