Lax Enforcement And The Low-Hanging Scapegoat

The notion that commercial droners and existing NAS users never expected the FAA to enforce their sUAS policy is ludicrous. To espouse it undermines the FAA’s credibility and justification for public funding.  

Then there is a slap in the face to the industry folks who have put years of time and energy into the airspace integration effort. What’s next? People moonlighting over at the UASIO? I don’t think the point of the FAA charter is to waste the taxpayer’s hard-earned money. Almost as absurd is the notion that a couple of cellphone apps are going to fix a broken commercial drone industry. Is that what GA and the airlines did/do? Are we then supposed to assume that enforcement will happen someday? Is the whole house of cards predicated on the notion that education (a couple of KnowB4UFly tweets) sinks in at some point? Is there a published timetable outlining the percentage of folks seeing the light and when? What should those following the rules do until then?

The FAA is blowing through tens of million dollars a year on a UASIO that has no data to back up its assertions and little in the way of safety risk assessments. The sUAS News has been patiently waiting since 2012 for FOIA copies of the then UASO and now UASIO yearly budgets and progress reports. These documents are purportedly prepared by the director of the office on a yearly basis as outlined in the position’s job description, but no one can find them, or he appears not to want to share. I have contacted my Congressperson’s office for assistance in obtaining the public information. So, I will ask the reader to hold off on any off-the-cuff judgments until all of the facts are in.   

Lately, we have witnessed a mini-resurgence of the age of scientific enlightenment. GAO, National Academies of Science, et al. are all espousing the notion that the FAA needs to employ science over conjecture to expedite the integration process. I know at least one guy who has been saying the same for almost a decade and all blue in the face.

Not only is the FAA brushing it off, but the hucksters and Flat Earther’s discount the need. However, I still come up short on public officials who are willing to bet their career on toy company representatives’ feelings.  The only way an unfolding debacle like this still survives is to populate the committee effort with folks who are predisposed to a snow job. The only way you can keep a dying show on the road like this is to populate it with more unqualified “partners” to help you build a “community based” fustercluck. We may be witnessing the fustercluck days in decline with the Department of Transportation sacking the RTCA from the DAC and more. I guess this is an excellent opportunity to pause and wish former RTCA President Margaret Jenny all of the best for a happy and relaxing retirement.

We all know that the expedited drone registration was touted as “the fix” for the rogue drone flyer problem once and for all! FAA took a swing at science to back up the 250-gram number, but the report and the industry representation lacked the fundamental consideration for material density. What did the FAA get out of the deal? Well, the same compliance issues, but now they can add enforcing rules for mall kiosk toys to an already overburdened workload, the shot in the foot heard around the world number two. What was number one you ask? How about navigable airspace between the blades of grass or possibly expanding the airport offset to 5 miles. One more example of the Administrative State: lots of overreaching regulation with little or no regard for enforcement, economic competitiveness, or regard for the people.

Yes, I know, even in spite of the big box stores not wanting a point of sale registration. But you don’t have to be a rocket surgeon to figure out that mentioning regulations, rules, and fines is like a bucket of cold water in the face of a fool and his parting money. Or possibly we’re just supposed to bet our livelihoods on the Best Buy lobbyist’s word that their customers are safe?? Either way, they threw the AMA membership under the air-bus with impunity.  It has almost become a perfunctory act in the airspace integration effort, and that’s just how some of these reprobates roll.

The hobbyist is the go-to problem set as the low-hanging scapegoat. Usually, it is someone who recently came into some VC funding or a government contract looking to scale up (scare up) a problem in need of a yet undefined solution. It goes like this: the hobby has changed, and something needs to be done to help curb the unchecked excesses of an unsubstantiated problem. (See the graphic for the story.) Let’s see, 1992, 2004/05, 2008/09, 2011/12, 2016 and the current surefire 336 repeal fix.  In 1992, safety concerned folks said the FAA needed to take another look at AC 91-57. That old dog fell back asleep and only woke after 9/11 exposed a few potential chinks in the aviation security armor. Not all of the risks were as cut and dry as a cadre of Middle Eastern students who didn’t care to learn about landing the plane. That little slip up cost folks at the FAA the yearly performance bonus.

The mid-2000’s saw the mushrooming growth of the industry as a result of what I like to call the electric revolution. Coupled with cheap imported aircraft and components, the RC hobby saw huge growth on and off of the hobby field. Your buddies at the manned aviation associations made demands to Congress that the FAA get off the duff and get a handle on unmanned things commercial and of course the hobby too.

Some of those same swine are now trying to syphon off the dissatisfied and demoralized AUVSI membership with all of the candid zeal of a couple of hyenas working a fallen zebra carcass. There’s a need for some genuine advocacy, and not that Mutt and Jeff stuff with a magazine folks get now.

2008 was the launch of the sUAS ARC, and the hobbyist got caught up in all of the commercial drone regulatory hoopla.  No one at the FAA had any idea who, why, when or what was going down with unmanned aviation outside of military circles, and, with the hobbyist, they knew even less.

The #LAANC gang is already pivoting to #UTM as the no paying customers business model in free #LAANC may scale, but it is light on the old ROI. I’ve been asking the FAA via #DroneQuestion about just issuing a blanket COA that instructs droners to use the Airport Facilities Map as the 333 users do. Mainly a fallback from the nagging, “Hey, why not just use flight service, which has got everything and already works everywhere?” If you have ever wondered how those blue circles show up on, you can visit.

I say we need a comprehensive C-UAS solution, and it should be up to the facility owner to decide how much risk he/she needs to mitigate and pay for. Throwing security blankets over large swaths of airspace will only serve to dampen growth and innovation for the law-abiding types. Without defining the risk and addressing the compliance issues with enforcement, it’s all Band-Aids and busy work.