Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Techy Tuesday - "Drone Control" Goes Live

Got a new drone for Christmas?  The FAA's mandatory drone registration goes into effect December 21, with a staggered implementation.  (Warning for self-starting audio at that link)
After Dec. 21, new buyers of all UAS weighing 0.55-55 lb. must register their aircraft before flying outdoors. Existing owners have until Feb. 16, 2016, to register their aircraft. The FAA is working with retailers to enable registration at point of sale, FAA Deputy Administrator Michael Whitaker said.

Online registration requires the owner’s name, physical address, email address and a $5 registration fee, which will be waived for the first 30 days to encourage compliance. A credit card transaction will be required to pay the fee and validate identification, but the $5 will be refunded for the first 30 days.
Whitaker said the $5 fee is because the FAA is required to cover their costs to process the application (data entry?) and is the same fee they charge regardless of aircraft size.  In other words, your 9 ounce toy drone costs the same to register as a Boeing 747.

Drones are expected to be a hot gift this Christmas, with sales geeks predicting 400,000 new drones flying around.  The other hot gift I've heard of is a GoPro camera, which makes me think there will be a a tendency for those new drones to have a new GoPro camera.

It's reasonable to ask why the FAA thinks they need to do this.  Industry-insider publication Aviation Week says that in a study of 925 drone sightings reported to the FAA, 10% were close enough to be considered a near mid-air collision.
The analysis, by the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College, New York, examined 921 incidents reported to the FAA from Dec. 17, 2013-Sept. 12, 2015. Of the incidents, 64.5% were classified as sightings that posed no immediate threat of collision.  [Note:  "Center for the Study of the Drone"?  Seriously?? - SiG]

Of the remaining 35.5%, classified as “close encounters” by Bard analysts, 90% of incidents occurred above the 400-ft. altitude limit for flying small unmanned aircraft, and a majority occurred within 5 mi. of an airport, where operations are prohibited without approval from the tower.

“Our findings indicate that incidents largely occur in areas where manned air-traffic density is high and where drone use is prohibited,” Bard said.
“We counted 158 incidents in which a drone came within 200 ft. or less of a manned aircraft . . . 51 incidents in which the proximity was 50 ft. or less, and 28 incidents in which a pilot maneuvered to avoid a collision with a drone,” the college said.

Of the incidents categorized as close encounters by Bard, 116 involved multiengine jet aircraft—90 of which were commercial airliners ...
So given the exponentially increasing number of drones, they apparently think they need to be able to track them to the owner/flyer, presumably by serial number or other ID on the drone.  Are they thinking that they recover a charred drone from the burned out engine of an air transport aircraft and track it down to the person who caused the incident?  My guess would be: most likely, yeah.  

Private pilots I know, who have considerably less momentum and mechanical resilience on their side than these multiengine commercial airliners, are rather concerned about these little toys.   The pull quote in there, IMO, is that the near-collisions are happening "in areas where drone use is prohibited".  Which would be a better use of FAA funds and attention: registering drones so they can track down who caused an accident or educating the new owners what the restrictions to flying that new toy are? 

It's an old observation that many laws, like FAA or Maritime laws, are written in blood (example).  An unsafe condition lasts for some amount of time, and then there's a bad accident where many people die.  That accident leads to the development and mandating of systems to prevent that sort of accident.  An example is the terrible 1986 midair collision between an Aeromexico DC-9 and a small airplane (Piper Archer N4891F) near the Los Angeles International Airport that led to the law mandating the use of Traffic Collision Avoidance Systems (TCAS) on commercial aircraft (and affording your correspondent and many of my friends years of gainful employment). 

In this case, there is no system to prevent a 737 from sucking a Bebop Drone into its engine intake if someone flies that drone into its flight path.  Even Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx conceded that registration is only a "first good point" of getting to know who owns drones, and realizes the "bad guys" won't register their drones. 

What really needs to happen is to get everyone to realize that once they put that drone in the air - guess what? - they're a pilot.  They have a lot of responsibility, and they need to know the rules on when and where they can fly.  Autonomous drones are a whole 'nother level of trouble and concern. 


  1. You know that, and I know that, but to 99.99% of drone operators (I hesitate to call them pilots, as they just don't give a sh1t), these things are "just toys".

    Guess we need more "common sense toy control"....

  2. I have seen people operating these toys in very unsafe and dangerous ways and being angry for me pointing it out to them. Like many areas, young people today (under 40, more or less) look at the 'cool' and 'neat' factors of what they are doing much more than the safety factor. For once the government is attempting to address a problem BEFORE it happens instead of waiting to respond after it happens.
    I am surprised that the process is as simple and cheap as it is.

  3. In the 1970's the FCC used to charge $5 for a license to operate a CB radio. They stop the policy as it cost them $15 to process and cash the check. I know with electronic processing most private companies can process a $5 payment for less then $5, but I wonder how much it will cost the government to process the $5 payment today?

    1. Gray,

      From what I see, I'd guess a few thousand bucks.

  4. While I'm willing to concede it is possible a one pound drone could seriously damage a jet engine, if swallowed by the engine and impacting the fan blades, the screened air intakes on most every fixed wing recip engine I've ever seen would prevent any damage from the aircraft striking a small plastic drone. While general aviation aircraft often operate at altitudes around airfields that might put them (and jets) at risk, anywhere else the only risk I can see would be with rotary-winged aircraft with unscreened air intakes - almost all turbine ("jet") powered. I know the little Robinson R-22 I trained in has a recip engine that wouldn't be at risk, and a blade strike - even to the anti-torque rotor - would not cause significant damage.

    It will be interesting to see if registration will be followed by confiscation, when it is determined that it is just "too dangerous" for civilians to operate drones. Especially ones that might surveil government activities.

  5. I noticed the signs on the fences around the Iowa parking lot today have big signs on them saying NO drone flying.

    The Port of L.A. requires a permit (cost unknown) that allows drone flying anywhere in the port area.

    I'll gab a pic of the sign next time I'm there....

  6. Hi Beard,
    So they get everybody to "Register" their "Drones' then when they get ready, they go door to door and "try to confiscate" everybody's drones!! ,,,,,Got that dude??? Now....Go replace the word "Drones" with "G-U-N-S-!!!!!"
    Got Gunz.....OUTLAW!!!!,

  7. http://www.wired.com/2014/11/how-ge-tests-jet-engines/#slide-5



    How many commercially available "drones" weigh more than a chicken???

    This is nothing more than the usual bullshiite from the usual sewage.

  8. Thanks, Mark. I didn't think a hobby drone could damage a fan-jet engine, but I had nothing to back up that thought. I don't know whether older jet engines might have difficulty swallowing a drone, but considering what they are made of and how small the few metallic parts are, I still don't see a problem.

    Just another attempt to control every aspect of our lives, and to pre-empt our ability to level the playing field by using drones against local, state, and Federal .gov agencies just as they use them to surveil us.