Personal drones grounded while FAA plays catch up


WIMBERLEY — A small remote-controlled aircraft mounted with a camera. For Gene Robinson of RP Flight Systems it has proven to be an invaluable tool for search and rescue missions.
Since 2005, Robinson has flown hundreds missions looking for missing persons. February of this year, he was grounded by the FAA.

“The technology has far exceeded their ability to be able to manage it; quite frankly they’re having to play catch-up game that they are not prepared to undertake,” said Robinson.

An e-mail sent to Robinson from Alvin Brunner, an Aviation Safety Inspector for the FAA, deemed his missions “illegal.”

The FAA has grounded commercial use of drones—but does issue Certificates of Authorization, or COAs. These are only available to public entities.

Since Robinson doesn’t get paid for his flights, he thought he was in the clear. And just last month he filed a suit against the FAA, asking a federal appeals court to review a cease and desist order issued to them back in February of 2014.

The suit challenges the FAA’s claim, calling it “unlawful, arbitrary, capricious, and an abuse of discretion.”

The FAA is working to catch up with the drone boom, working to integrate unnamed aircraft into the National Air Space. And it’s turning to places like UT Arlington for feedback along the way.

“Until they understand, there has been a broad brush painted,” said Brian Huff, an associate professor in the Industrial Manufacturing & Systems Engineering Department in UT Arlington’s College of Engineering.
Just this year, UT Arlington was granted one of six testing sites across the country for scientific research. Research they hope will shape the regulations as the FAA works to someday clear commercial flights.
“The faster we can establish a set of rules that everybody knows how to operate these correctly, the faster this nation will be able to join the rest of the world is successfully deploying unnamed air systems,” said Huff.
For Robinson, it’s more than philanthropy; his company makes drones and sells them.
“We do make the spectra unmanned air craft, and unfortunately sales haven’t been that great for the last couple of years because of the situation with the FAA,” said Robinson.