RCAPA (Proposed) Special Rule for Micro Unmanned Aircraft Q&A 2018

This story is a Q&A that started after I posted the RCAPA (Proposed) Special Rule for Micro Unmanned Aircraft on Facebook. It would appear that there is similar langue in the latest iterations of the FAA reauthorization, and I figure it might be a good idea to share with folks where it came from. Reader Shaun Stanton asked the following questions about the Special Rule that came out of the sUAS ARC circa 2009.

Link to the original story – https://www.suasnews.com/2014/08/special-rule-for-micro-unmanned-aircraft/

Shaun Stanton – Question: 

1. How did you get ALPA to sign off on no regulations for model aircraft and of all things the micro drone rule. Does RCAPA have some magic funding, from a certain drone maker?

Serious note:

2. What does less regulation for micro drones aim to do? It seems the current system is not that overbearing to take a 150 dollar test to be able to operate.  

3. With LAANC out now, why will the micro drones be exempt, from getting airspace approvals? It seems since the bulk of the commercial operations are being done with Phantoms and Mavic’s they are the ones clogging up mos of the COA wait times. Won’t this clog up ATC facilities phone lines as well.  

4. Why is there not a formal rule on not flying over crowds and people.

5. How will this prevent abuses, of people deciding to fly larger than 4.4lbs systems? When you give people an inch, they will take a mile. I can see it now that someone will figure “no one will know I am flying an inspire 2 with the X5S or X7 and even larger rigs like M600, wind 8’s Altas, etc. Oh I don’t have authorization to fly in this airspace, so it will be our little secret that this is an Inspire 2 and not a Mavic.

My observations albeit anecdotal since I have not analysed the data lately, are that the bulk of the irresponsible flying have been done with the Phantoms and Mavics most of the time. They are the cheaper platforms and most prolific. It makes sense. I think of the eyeball popped out of the kid done with a Phantom 2. Paul Skinner’s stunt of crashing a Phantom 3 Pro into the woman at the pride parade in Seattle. It seems like the micro systems would be more regulated. Which goes to another point, why does it make sense that the least credentialed get more freedom of operation? I am with you on the whole 107 is bullshit and is somewhat of a joke. At least those have one, in theory have been trained to understand operations rules and can’t play the dumb card as much. Also once you open the gate to CBO’s, how do you control some of it that the CBO safety guidelines meet an acceptable standard?

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My reply –

  1. Ellis Chernoff was the final ALPA rep on the sUAS ARC. Towards the end of the sUAS ARC, even the manned representatives could see that the UAV (as they were called back then and a tragedy for another time) folks were getting screwed. What the RCAPA was proposing was safer than what was going on in the NAS at the time, and probably still is. No magic funding. It was ten years ago, and the only funding was donations from the membership. Unfortunately, the DoD guys tried to spike it because it was under the 2 kilos, or 4.4 pounds, that the AV Raven weighed. All of the AV products were covered in a Kevlar variant, and Dave York from HAI (Vietnam vet and Kevlar meant bulletproof) was concerned about damage to their members tail rotors.

Chris Anderson from DIY Drones would not support it because it wasn’t enough weight, and he didn’t believe the FAA would ever regulate drones anyway. When it resurfaced in the NPRM for the 2012 FAA reauthorization, it was not supported again by AUVSI (Mike Toscano, Gretchen West leadership), as it didn’t take all of the membership into consideration. Even iRobot visionaries complained that 4 pounds was not enough weight even for testing. I asked Helen, “How much does software weigh?” DJI complained that “frangible” would make their products too flimsy, but they didn’t read the ICAO definition the same way as Gary Mortimer, and the folks in aviation do.

The Upshot – we waited seven-plus years because folks were concerned about their own products/bottom line and the visionaries lacked a vision of where this industry was actually headed.

  1. At the time, the conventional wisdom was all about aircraft standards, Airworthiness, pilot certification, and manuals. All of it progressed to more MIL-STD talk as the DoD vendors had already produced most of this stuff on cost-plus contracting boom post 9/11. ASTM was in full swing, and they were rewriting whatever they wanted the standards to look like. I turned down a deal from the FAA to do whatever I wanted to do (blind eye); I said it wasn’t fair if it wasn’t for everyone, so no thank you! I also screwed myself out of a six-figure-a-year job at AV as the commercial BD guy because I called them out in a New Yorker Magazine interview.

This was really aimed at the small business, end-user, part-time businessperson, and folks who were trying to build and test new systems, software, sensors, applications, etc. – getting to come out of the shadows.

The takeaway – We as a country took a decade off and let the Chinese have it because we were lazy and petty, and the folks driving the bus literally laughed (including NASA, DoD, FAA Brass) at the notion that the Chinese would ever be able to produce anything as sophisticated as a drone. I know because I was the guy who was laughed at by the gaggle of PhD’s, including folks who failed at burrito delivery for Google.

Many of the firsts you read about in the news lately as firsts were already being done or done, including but not limited to FARM DRONES, Volcano drones, blood deliveries, transatlantic flights. https://youtu.be/AcSOtfkLRgI

  1. The RCAPA had a process where UAV operators would call the tower (within 3 miles of the airport at the time) and tell them what they planned to do—an easy 1- to 2-minute process that usually ended with them asking about current FAA rumblings for the hobby. #LAANC is a boondoggle that was put in place to make it look like the FAA was making progress and also had something to do with ATC getting paid. The call-the-tower method was not logged and apparently did not meet the service criteria, but only required an easy fix.

There are several issues with LAANC:  

  1. Flight services and www.1800wxbrief.com has had a UAS tab for years now and was one checkbox away from doing everything LANNC does and more everywhere.
  2. The FAA could have put out a blanket CoA that simply directed the end user to follow the UASFM grids Unmanned Aircraft Facilities Maps.
  3. Calling the tower would still work for the majority of users. Some of the waiver applications are cell phone inspection applications that are requesting waivers for all of their assets numbering in the several thousand. Even NASA is spending a boatload of money to develop #UTM recommendations for an as-yet-unknown number of commercial end-users.

The Takeaway –

No one (to the best of my knowledge) has a handle on how many commercial users there are in the NAS around the country at any given time. No one knows what the future looks like. What will be required and where? How much it will cost and who is going to pay? Those are the easy questions. Harder is: what does the certification process look like and how long until we have a working and certified system that accommodates file and fly type access to the NAS?  https://www.suasnews.com/…/how-long-until-we-have-a-utm/

  1. I would say the two significant issues besides ID and Tracking (the ARC was a fustercluck purportedly because folks were peddling their wares) would have to be some sort of aircraft certification and a practical test for the UAS license. No one knows if droners actually have the piloting skills to fly their systems (up to 55 pounds), and lobbyists are advocating we fly in congested areas and over the public’s head—#CRAZYTALK! Secondly, the engineering is at the toy level. We don’t have any data on the Mean Time Between Failures (MTBF). I’m sure DJI does, but I haven’t seen any of it published anywhere.

5. It was a different time, and the exemption was predicated on the aviation culture of safety working in our favor. RCAPA had guidelines for different sized aircraft, a two-level testing program, and third-party liability insurance in place and available for commercial users.

One of the early mistakes the FAA made was the 2007 policy clarification that made commercial drones illegal. The only people who stopped using were folks with pilot’s licenses and the law and order types. The “amateurs” bilking the other amateurs out of free IP went nuts, as did the people who carried on and gained market share and made money.

They could do some sort of DOT sticker scheme, like Motorcycle helmets, to identify any exempted drones micro-drones. Manufactures could put limits on them too. Maybe this is where they should concentrate and spend the geofencing dollars. Folks are always going to take a mile, and perhaps we as a community just have to man/woman up to point of sale registration for out-of-the-box drones or drones with more than two propellers coming in from overseas.

The Takeaway – I think this ship has sailed—how you can ask for an exemption when you have conceded that anything over 250 grams is dangerous and needs to be registered and tracked. The lucrative aerial photography market has not panned out, and the mega-millions are proving elusive for many folks outside of Shenzhen.