Educators express Special Rule for Model Aircraft concerns


The FAA must be starting to bounce emails from Lawyer Brendan Schulman from office to office hoping that somebody else will open and deal with them. This time several Universities make fair and valid points.

A month ago Peggy Gilligan, Associate Administrator for Aviation Safety at the Federal Aviation Administration, was awarded the L. Welch Pogue Award for Lifetime Achievement in Aviation. The award was given in recognition of Ms. Gilligan’s many contributions to advancing commercial aviation. I wonder who will be the first FAA official to pick up an award from the civil commercial unmanned community in the USA? An award from AUVSI of course, would not count.

I have a felling Brendan is firmly at the head of the queue for awards at the minute.

To Whom It May Concern,

As educators and researchers, we write to express our collective concern about the Interpretation of the Special Rule for Model Aircraft (hereafter the Interpretive Rule for Model Aircraft or Interpretive Rule) published in the Federal Register on June 25, 2014. The Interpretive Rule addresses the critical issues of model aircraft safety and protection of our national airspace system. Perhaps inadvertently, this novel interpretation could also haveserious and severely detrimental impacts on education and research in the United States,particularly in the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM).

Model aircraft have been safely used in education and research since the earliest days of flight. The Wright Brothers used models to test their designs before putting their own lives at risk. Radio-controlled model aircraft, identical in many respects to today’s devices, have been used in the United States since at least the 1930s. Some of our nation’s top scientists, engineers, pilots, and astronauts furthered their careers experimenting with model aircraft, a list that includes John Glenn, Paul MacCready, Burt Rutan, Neil Armstrong, Robert Gibson, Arthur Young, Samuel Langley, Thomas Edison, William Stout, and numerous others.

Model aircraft are ideal for developing and testing new designs that can improve the aerodynamic efficiency, flight dynamics, and safety of full-sized aircraft; with the availability of miniature cameras and other small sensors, these same models now make valuable contributions to environmental science, GIS mapping, filmmaking, archaeology, agricultural science, and many other fields. As educators in STEM fields, we believe that free and open access to this technology is absolutely essential to our nation’s continued leadership in aviation, to our future economy, and to our long-term security.

Perhaps surprisingly, model aircraft used in research and education have a safety record that appears to be unmatched by any other form of aviation. According to the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA), there have been six recorded fatalities involving model aircraft in our entire nation’s history. Nearly all of these incidents involved the operator or direct participants. No fatalities have ever been caused by small battery-powered models (e.g., “Park Flyer” models) and, to the best of our knowledge, no fatalities have resulted from academic research with model aircraft. It is difficult to identify any other high-value activity that occurs in the outdoor airspace and has such an extraordinary safety record. Even baseballs are statistically more deadly. Some of today’s model aircraft are so small and safe that they can even be flown indoors around people and furniture.

We understand and share the FAA’s concern about model aircraft being operated in places where they do not belong and creating a hazard to manned aircraft operations. Recent news reports suggest there have been model aircraft sightings by airline pilots in the vicinity of airports and in other highly objectionable locations. We firmly believe that our legal system should address these transgressions through both civil and criminal remedies as appropriate against anyone who maliciously or through wanton recklessness endangers the navigable airspace. Our long-standing use of model aircraft, however, bears no resemblance to the objectionable practices that have recently become such a concern. Overbroad regulatory interpretation, such as the one the FAA has issued, will serve only to chill and thwart responsible parties, such as our institutions, while doing little if anything to restrain those who actually could put the safety of the public at risk.

Read the full document here

Paul Voss, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Picker Engineering Program
Smith College
Joined in support by, listed alphabetically:

James G. Anderson, PhD.
Philip Weld Professor
Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology
Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences and School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
Harvard University

Ella M. Atkins, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Aerospace Engineering Department
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

Donald C. Baumer, Ph. D.
Professor, Department of Government
Smith College
Reid W. Bertone-Johnson, MLA
Manager, Ada and Archibald MacLeish Field Station
Smith College

Carol Cady, M.Sc.
GIS Specialist
St. Lawrence University

Jon Caris, M.Sc.
Director, Spatial Analysis Lab
Smith College

Patricia A. Cleary, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Chemistry
University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire

Mary “Missy” Cummings, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Mechanical Engineering & Materials Science Department
Director, Humans and Autonomy Laboratory
Duke University

Philippe Cohen, Ph.D.
Executive Director, Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve
Stanford University

Elizabeth J. Carmichael, CPCU
Director of Compliance and Risk Management
Five Colleges Incorporated

Scott A. Drzyzga, PhD, GISP
Associate Professor, Department of Geography-Earth Science
President, PASSHE GIS Consortium & Affiliates, President
Shippensburg University

David R. Fitzjarrald, Ph.D.
Senior Research Associate
Atmospheric Sciences Research Center,
University at Albany, SUNY

David R. Foster, Ph.D.
Director, Harvard Forest
Harvard University

Mark Friedl, Ph.D.
Professor, Department of Earth and Environment
Boston University

Josh M. Gray, Ph.D.
Research Assistant Professor, Department of Earth & Environment
Boston University

Andrew J. Guswa, Ph.D.
Director, Center for the Environment, Ecological Design, and Sustainability
Professor, Picker Engineering Program
Smith College

Benjamin W. Heumann, Ph.D
Assistant Professor, Geography
Director, Center for Geographic Information Science
Central Michigan University

Christina M. Hupy
Associate Professor, Geography Department
University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire

Joseph P. Hupy, Ph. D.
Associate Professor, Geography Department
University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire

Barbara Kellum, Ph.D.
Professor of Art, Director of the Archaeology Minor
Smith College

Jack W. Langelaan, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Department of Aerospace Engineering
Pennsylvania State University

Steven Moore, Ph. D.
Director of Spatial Studies
University of Redlands

Thomas Mueller, Ph.D.
Professor, Department of Earth Science
California University of Pennsylvania

Robert M. Newton, Ph.D.
Professor, Department of Geosciences
Smith College

Eric E. Poehler, Ph. D.
Assistant Professor, Department of Classics
University of Massachusetts Amherst

Andrew Richardson, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Department of Organismic & Evolutionary Biology
Harvard University

Chris Roosevelt, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Archaeology Department
Boston University

Peter D. Washabaugh, Ph.D.
Arthur F. Thurnau Professor and Associate Professor, Aerospace Engineering Department
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor