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Punish rogue recreational drone pilots — not the rule followers

Punish rogue recreational drone pilots — not the rule followers
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There is a lot of misinformation, and lack of information, surrounding the policies that govern recreational drones. Even those who work on drone policy inaccurately characterize provisions allowing for recreational use of drones, Part 107 and Section 336 of the 2012 FAA Modernization and Reform Act. This mischaracterization branding these provisions as a “get out of jail free” card for anyone who wants to fly drones or model aircraft, as a recent opinion piece in The Hill argued. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

I agree with the Commercial Drone Alliance that drones have significant potential to support public officials and help small businesses grow. However, critics like the alliance completely mischaracterize the challenge of regulating recreational drones.

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Let me be clear — if you are flying drones for recreational purposes today, you must be operating within an established safety program, and there are two ways of doing so. By default, recreational pilots are to fly under the FAA’s Small Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Rule, known as Part 107.

 

The only other way to operate is to fully comply with the criteria of Section 336 (Part 101) and fly within the programming of a community-based organization. Federal regulations require that recreational drone flyers must be educated and operate under one of these two options.

The problem is that many people don’t understand this. 

According to the current laws, recreational drone pilots are only eligible to fly under Section 336 if they fly in accordance with the safety guidelines and within the safety programming of a community-based organization, such as the Academy of Model Aeronautics. By our estimate, only about 200,000 people fall into this category, most of them are academy members.

To put this in perspective, according to the FAA, around 900,000 recreational users have registered their drones with the agency so far. The math from here is easy — about 200,000 people fly under Section 336 and the remaining 700,000 are required to operate under Part 107. Those that aren’t flying under Part 107 are in violation 14 CFR § 107.12, the requirement for a remote pilot certificate.

The truth is Section 336 is not to blame for rogue flyers. Those people are Part 107 violators — and should be treated as such. 

If Congress wants to increase the safety of our skies, they should help recreational drone pilots understand that they need to comply with Part 107. Congress should also task the FAA with increasing enforcement so that those who violate Part 107 are held accountable for their actions.

Many recreational drone pilots already know when, where and how to fly safely, and they comply with the law. Many pilots follow rigorous safety guidelines and our members are afforded a $2.5 million-dollar liability insurance policy, establishing financial responsibility.

Pilots following the rules are not the problem, but we acknowledge that some tweaks to Section 336 may be necessary to clarify who the provision does and does not cover. We are willing to work with Congress and the UAS industry to ensure that those that fly under Section 336 are educated, trained and managed by an established community-based organization — and that everyone else operates under Part 107.

Rogue flyers are Part 107 violators. We must, first and foremost, make clear the need to follow Part 107 if not operating within a community-based organization. And when someone violates Part 107, he or she needs to be held accountable. Unfounded statements asking to revoke the Special Rule only harm a community of responsible model aviation hobbyists and will do nothing to curb the 700,000 rogue drone pilots. 

Interest in drones has soared this year and shows no signs of slowing down. As it currently stands, the FAA is under-resourced to handle the growing surge in commercial drones, Part 107 waiver requests and future rulemakings. That’s why public-private partnerships with experienced community-based organization s such as Academy of Model Aeronautics can be helpful in alleviating the strain on the FAA and enhance safety. 

In the next FAA reauthorization bill, Congress should continue to allow organizations such as AMA to manage its members as part of the recreational community, preserving the option to fly safely and responsibly under our guidelines, oversight and eighty years of experience. 

Rich Hanson is the President of the Academy of Model Aeronautics.