An FAA rule put into effect back in December 2015 has been challenged a drone hobbyist in federal court. Said drone hobbyist/enthusiast used the argument that drones were model aircraft, similar to remote controlled plans or yesteryear. Appeals court judges in Washington, DC agreed and axed the FAA requirement that all hobbyists register their drones in a national database.
Under the old FAA requirement, hobbyists had to register their drones in a national database for a $5 fee and had to renew registrations every three years. The regulation also required drone owners to mark their aircraft with an ID number. Those who did not comply faced both civil and criminal penalties.
The FAA claims it will review the decision before determining its next step, if any. One possible reaction could be to convince Congress to amend the original 2012 FAA Modernization and Reform Act that designated drones as model aircraft. If successful, the registration rule could go back into effect, with possibly more and stiffer requirements.
Interpreting the law as it stands in the center, the DC judges say, “Congress is always free to repeal or amend its 2012 prohibition on FAA rules regarding model aircraft. Perhaps Congress should do so, perhaps not. In any event, we must follow the statute as written.”
On the left hand, Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) president Rich Hanson, says, “For decades, AMA members have registered their aircraft with AMA and have followed our community-based safety programming. It is our belief that a community-based program works better than a federally mandated program to manage the recreational community.” Then on the right, the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, disagrees with the ruling claiming, “"is important to promote accountability and responsibility by users of the national airspace.”
No matter where you stand on the issue, or feel about drones, there really should not be much debate or philosophizing here. There are a number of solid reasons why there should be some form of drone regulation in place.
First, operationally define model aircraft? At one time “model” meant something you built from a commercially-bought kit. Whether it is a model car, plane, submarine, etc., it was something the hobbyist built from scratch, and hoped would work properly when complete.
Second, model aircraft has changed over the years. Model planes and other flying devices of ten to twenty years ago were not as sophisticated, controllable, as high flying, and as fast as current drones. The latest array of drones usually come pre-assembled – hardly meeting model status in my opinion.
Third, no matter what the era or date, there are always individuals that will do something dumb and equally dangerous to themselves and others with their flying “models”, be they drones, airplanes, or helicopters. There have been recent reports of consumer drones flying a bit too close to commercial airliners. Also there are the voyeurs who are compelled to mount cameras on their drones so as to spy on their friends and neighbors. Then you have a few out there who found ways of mounting their firearms on a drone with ability to fire them.
Based on those observations, it’s my opinion that the FAA should tell drone enthusiasts to go fly a kite. Everyone will be much safer in the long run. ~MD
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