Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Government

FAA Shuts Down Search-and-Rescue Drones 218

Posted by Soulskill
from the go-hire-some-people-who-understand-technology dept.
An anonymous reader writes "For about a decade, Gene Robinson has been putting cameras on remote-controlled model aircraft and using them in search-and-rescue missions. But now the Federal Aviation Administration has shut him down, saying his efforts violate a ban on flying RC aircraft for commercial purposes. Robinson doesn't charge the families of the people he's looking for, and he created a non-profit organization to demonstrate that. He also coordinates with local authorities and follows their guidelines to the letter. The FAA shut him down because they haven't designed regulations to deal with situations like this, even though they've been working on it since 2007. 'So it's difficult to argue that his flights are more dangerous than what goes on every weekend at RC modeling sites throughout the United States, which can include flights of huge models that weigh 10 times as much as Robinson's planes; aerial stunts of nitromethane-fueled model helicopters; and the low-altitude, 500-kilometer-per-hour passes in front of spectators of model jets powered by miniature turbine engines.'"
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

FAA Shuts Down Search-and-Rescue Drones

Comments Filter:
  • And they're nowhere near coming up with guidelines, as I'm pretty sure there's honestly no way to do this AND maintain current safety levels. At this point I'm pretty sure that manned and unmanned flight are just fundamentally incompatible.

    • by phantomfive (622387) on Saturday April 12, 2014 @02:05PM (#46734649) Journal

      And they're nowhere near coming up with guidelines, as I'm pretty sure there's honestly no way to do this AND maintain current safety levels.

      Current guidelines already include rc aircraft. The only difference here is 'commercial.' The FCC has guidelines for non-commercial use, but haven't done anything for commercial use.

      This is something that is bothering a lot of people, but this particular guy is becoming the face of the problem for political reasons, because if you want to get something done, it is easier to show someone with a sympathetic cause that can get people outraged.

      This is similar to calling some group of people bigots. The FCC is an anti-search-and-rescue bigot.

      • by dougmc (70836) <dougmc+slashdot@frenzied.us> on Saturday April 12, 2014 @08:04PM (#46736767) Homepage

        Current guidelines already include rc aircraft. The only difference here is 'commercial.' The FCC has guidelines for non-commercial use, but haven't done anything for commercial use.

        And the "guidelines" they have for this non-commercial use of R/C planes that you're referring to [faa.gov] says nothing of commercial or non-commercial use, and it's *advisory* -- not binding.

        The FAA is basically just making up their rules as they go along, and they can't even bother to write them down so that people will know what the rules are. Instead, people get letters from the FAA saying that they're breaking the rules. Now, from that, people have sort of deduced what these unwritten rules are now, but it's still messed up.

        Which is probably what prompted this ruling against the FAA [mashable.com] ... they can't enforce laws that they haven't even made yet. (That said, they continue to try, and other courts may agree with them. But they could fix this by actually writing down their rules and making them official.)

    • That's the whole bullshit here. It is not commercial if it is not commercial. So what's the fuss?

    • by Rich0 (548339)

      There is no reason that they need to be incompatible. Just require that all aircraft have a functioning ADS-B transceiver and TCAS, both manned and drones. Require drones to obey resolution advisories. That will eliminate most of the midair collision that exists today, manned or unmanned.

      They also need to find a solution to the cost problem. There is nothing in a ADS-B+TCAS which isn't in every smartphone on the planet, and yet the former costs $10k while the latter costs $400 new from Google. I'd thin

      • by BitZtream (692029) on Saturday April 12, 2014 @07:32PM (#46736617)

        There is no reason that they need to be incompatible. Just require that all aircraft have a functioning ADS-B transceiver and TCAS, both manned and drones. Require drones to obey resolution advisories. That will eliminate most of the midair collision that exists today, manned or unmanned.

        You just destroyed the entire R/C aircraft industry in one instant.

        I'd LOVE for them to do this.

        The problem is that I can go out and fly my turbine powered 100 pound F16 at several hundred miles an hour for crowds of spectators with an old 72mhz radio that has pretty much zero interference rejection ... but I can't fly my 2 pound quad and take a pictures with it for commercial use even though my quad will never exceed 10mph and uses a DSSS based radio that will reject any signal that doesn't have the right GUIDs and checksums ... and is never used for in front of crowds, nor does it carry a half gallon of kerosene for fuel, and the quad has an auto pilot that will land it if it gets a low battery, over current, loss of control radio, loss of telemetry radio, or simply flying outside of the geo-fenced area.

        Its fucking retarded. Its okay as long as no one can possibly profit from it, but if there is profit, fuck it, the EXACT same thing is illegal, and there is NO WAY I can make it legal without treating the UAV as if it were an aircraft capable of carrying passengers for hire!

  • by microcars (708223) on Saturday April 12, 2014 @01:47PM (#46734529) Homepage
    • Doesn't matter how the IRS considers it, it only matters how the FAA considers it. Welcome to the friendly world of bureaucracy, where bunnies hop through the fields and birds fly through the air and nothing can ever get done. Just ask Kafka.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Maxo-Texas (864189)

      Lots of non-profits pay their executives salaries between 150,000 and 650,000 dollars. Plus lots of benny's like free gala's every month, travel, etc.

      And, just thought of this: Churches are non-profit and make millions or even billions of dollars, their executives travel and drive really nice cars and have plush offices (not to mention owning tons of land).

      • by PRMan (959735)
        A typical church of 700 people has an annual budget of around $2 million. Out of that, they have to pay for 5-6 pastors, office staff, janitorial staff, etc. And their bills are huge with electricity, water, printing costs, etc. Nobody's getting rich except for a very small percentage on TV.
    • You should actually read your link.

      If you INTEND to make a profit, it's a business. Even if you don't actually make a profit.

    • by mysidia (191772)

      This is solely for the IRS' purposes, to ensure that you cannot subtract losses related to your non-profitable business, from your other income or inflows into your business: in other words, the IRS "HOBBY" definition is for the purpose of maximizing government tax revenues.

      Other regulators are not beholden to their position. IRS Will also reclassify as non-Hobby when it is in their interests to do so.

    • by mmell (832646)
      This isn't the IRS. It's the FAA. Their bat, their ball, their rules.
  • If you have ever met the local SAR types I am willing to bet that they were instrumental in shutting him down. The last thing in the world they would want is their "Seniority" to be challenged by some upstart with easy to use technology. If you want to see the living defintion of a blowhard then go meet your local SAR.

    I am not talking about professionals such as the coast guard but these local types who periodically call for hikers to be licensed and whatnot.

    Think about how easy SAR could be with semi
    • by sribe (304414)

      If you have ever met the local SAR types I am willing to bet that they were instrumental in shutting him down. The last thing in the world they would want is their "Seniority" to be challenged by some upstart with easy to use technology. If you want to see the living defintion of a blowhard then go meet your local SAR.

      Interesting. That's not at all the case where I live, so my perspective is completely opposite yours. Probably good for both of us to be reminded that the attitude of local SAR is going to be extremely variable across regions...

    • Most SAR types aren't in it just for the money. They actually do want to help. Saving money on much slower, wasted search time leaves far more resources for prevention and better equipment for when rescues for people, not just lost corpses, is still possible.

      Human guidance is still needed because mathematics cannot reveal "it looks like there was a campground there, where did someone doing that get wood and water? where would they have seen light or sought shelter" without a lot more data and intelligence t

    • by AK Marc (707885)
      The SAR types I know want amateurs out of the way because looking for one guy lost often ends up looking for 15 lost people. If he can help with demonstrably zero risk to himself, I don't know an SAR type that would be against it at all. They would just make sure he's lost next if he found the lost person and went directly to the private news helicopter with the information, rather than involving SAR.
  • This is just the start of something larger. Drones will get smaller and smaller until the technology will be there to release a cloud of gnat-like drones to monitor the entire world. What will the FCC say then if the gnat operators start suing people who have wind power generators for destroying their property? They need a policy that stretches back as far as possible. Without a defined line to draw it's just a long series of incremental advancements between RC planes and gnat drones.

    • by WoodstockJeff (568111) on Saturday April 12, 2014 @02:15PM (#46734707) Homepage

      It is a fundamental principle in the United States that, unless something is illegal, it is legal. Regulations, therefore, should enumerate what makes something illegal, not what makes it legal. To do otherwise prohibits the possibility of inventing better ways to do something, until/unless the regulations are modified to allow it.

      The problem within the FAA is that they have regulations that work both ways. In most cases, they tell you what you CANNOT do to remain legal, in others, they tell you what you MUST DO to remain legal.

      • by mmell (832646)
        Not legal. Compliant with regulation. There's a difference. The FAA doesn't pass bills or sign them into law. They establish regulations, a very different process.

        That such regulations tend to carry the force of law is irrelevant.

      • I believe their major malfunction centers on "sense and avoid" - that's the standard for human piloted aircraft and they want drones to do it before they turn them loose.

        Problem is, drones range in size from gnats to 707s, and there's absolutely no standardization of sense and avoid tech that works, or even has a chance of working across the spectrum of players.

        • by BitZtream (692029)

          Then why is my UAV legal when I use it for taking pictures of my city for a blog, but illegal if I take a picture for a real estate agent?

          Thats the difference. Nothing else changes but who gets the picture, and the legality is completely different suddenly.

  • The government wants to be the only group with drones and they like to use them for spying and killing rather than saving lives.
    • by formfeed (703859)

      The government wants to be the only group with drones and they like to use them for spying and killing rather than saving lives.

      That might actually work.
      Instead of calling it a "Search and Rescue Drone" call it an unmanned aerial surveillance vehicle that could be used by small units to safely scan unaccessible terrain. Then tell your local senator that you are a small start-up military contractor who needs help cutting some federal red tape to do real life testing of your beta model by using it in cooperation with local law enforcement.

      (Be sure to pronounce "vehicle" as Vee-Hee-Kal and the word "federal" always with some disgu

  • by timeOday (582209) on Saturday April 12, 2014 @02:00PM (#46734623)

    So it's difficult to argue that his flights are more dangerous than what goes on every weekend at RC modeling sites throughout the United States

    I can't fully agree with that. RC planes don't tend to fly out of range because they have to be in sight. A remotely piloted drone is not flown in light of sight, so it could more easily be controlled up to altitudes that might pose a danger to aircraft, or out of radio range.

    Not saying they should have shut this guy down, or that taking 9 years to make rules is acceptable. A SAR drone is almost certainly flying where there isn't much risk of crashing into anybody anyways. But keeping signal strength down into valleys would really present some challenges.

    • Let's ponder for a moment... which one is probably going to be flown higher off the ground: A drone that aims to find something on the ground or an RC glider that aims to stay in the air as long as it can?

      If the FAA is afraid of drones getting in the way of planes due to their flight level, they should probably be more concerned with model planes.

    • by Kaenneth (82978)

      It's all well and good until it collides with a manned SAR Helicopter, killing a few paramedics...

      • by BitZtream (692029)

        My Quad (and my 3 helis and 1 seaplane) all weigh less than the birds these aircraft are designed to deal with.

        A goose is far more dangerous than what this guy flies. I doubt you could actually fly one of his 'flying wing's into a helicopter fuselage because the down draft from the main rotor would most likely force it under the heli even if they came at each other head on at full speed.

  • by theshowmecanuck (703852) on Saturday April 12, 2014 @02:16PM (#46734711) Journal
    The government/NSA doesn't want it's monopoly on aerial observation and spying infringed upon.
  • by Bill_the_Engineer (772575) on Saturday April 12, 2014 @02:27PM (#46734777)
    Using the FAA's flawed logic you could claim that it is illegal for amateur radio operators to help in search and rescue or during natural disasters emergency operations. I know this is not the case.
    • by DaMattster (977781) on Saturday April 12, 2014 @02:31PM (#46734815)
      In fact, if your radio controlled aircraft is operating on HAM bands then you can probably, successfully argue emergency and disaster assistance. I know because I am a General-class HAM radio operator.
      • The frequency you use to communicate with the drone have little to do with it. It's the actual activity being performed by the drone and if the drone is of sufficient size it is still falls under to jurisdiction of the FAA. The FCC only regulates the radio communication portion. Congrats on your license. I'm an extra class former section manager of ARRL myself.
        • BTW my answer in no way reflects the opinions of the ARRL which I haven't been a part of in quite a while. Just saying congrats from an old and experienced ham.
    • by mmell (832646)
      Good thing the FCC doesn't use the FAA's logic, huh?
  • by davecb (6526) <davec-b@rogers.com> on Saturday April 12, 2014 @02:44PM (#46734907) Homepage Journal
    Same rules as non-commercial, plus you must register and find out any local rules.
  • First off, if he's not a business it's not a flight for commercial purposes (going non-profit kinda made it a business, however, even though he's not charging). Second, since when is it against the law to do something for which there is no law or regulation against?
  • This is an attempt by the FAA to protect Raytheon and friends. With the upsurge in UAV for military purposes aligning reasonably well with the ban on any commercial use it has allowed companies like Raytheon to establish themselves with hardware, as well as patents on the related technologies and purposes one would use remote controlled aircraft for. It's also why they don't actual have proper specifications to classify the aircraft, something which they so completely obviously should have done in the first

  • by Opportunist (166417) on Saturday April 12, 2014 @03:34PM (#46735223)

    Over here, NOT aiding in an emergency situation is a felony, while at the same time it's nearly impossible to be prosecuted for helping (no matter how efficiently). As soon as whatever organization is in place signed you up as a helper there's nothing you could do short of looting that could possibly result in you getting into trouble.

    Then again, I could not imagine our variant of the FAA acting like that. There's gotta be more to it than the official bullshit, that just doesn't make any kind of sense. My money is on someone wanting to make money with it and it's just so un-american that there's someone offering something for free that someone else tries to sell. Even if it's emergency aid.

  • ...I'd tell the FAA to pound sand, and make them arrest me. I of course didn't RTFA, but if they are still forming regulations on this, it mean that they are still unregulated, which is the default condition.
    • Would you really, though? You want to lose your home, your job, perhaps your family, your freedom, your ability to be further employed, have your credit rating destroyed, end up on various lists like no fly, felon, etc... do you really?

      It's pretty easy to be upset about this, but the reality of putting your head into the gears of legal process -- even when you demonstrably and obviously on the side of sanity and righteousness -- is that your head gets squashed and the gears are only further lubricated by yo

    • by mmell (832646)
      They can't arrest you, and they won't have you arrested by the police (at least, I don't think they will) - but they will certainly see to it you never get a pilot's certificate as well as fining you out of existence. Good luck with getting around that - you can't even discharge the debt in bankruptcy. Welcome to economic serfdom!
  • By the law, their authority starts at something like 700 feet. Stay below that and they have no business saying anything one way or the other about it.

    These drones pose no threat to conventional aircraft because they operate at closer to ten thousand feet... not under 700.

    The FAA can do what they like above 700 feet. But below it they have no authority or purpose.

    • by mpe (36238)
      By the law, their authority starts at something like 700 feet. Stay below that and they have no business saying anything one way or the other about it.
      These drones pose no threat to conventional aircraft because they operate at closer to ten thousand feet... not under 700.


      You'd typically find aircraft operating down to zero feet at or near airports. Also aircraft performing things such as powerline surveys and firefighting can be flying very low. So there might be cause for concern. But obviously not a
      • We're not talking about the area immediately around airfields.

        And as to low flying airplanes... that is correct... the FAA does not have authority there.

        Do understand, you can apply additional regulations at the state level if you want.

        But why would you want to do it? The point of the FAA is to keep commercial airliners from crashing into each other. Beyond that they really don't have a place in anything.

  • by drkim (1559875) on Saturday April 12, 2014 @03:57PM (#46735369)

    The FAA has been overturned by a a federal judge on this, and non-commercial and commercial drone flying are now legal.
    " NTSB Administrative Law Judge Patrick Geraghty ruled Thursday that the policy notices the FAA issued as a basis for the ban weren’t enforceable because they hadn’t been written as part of a formal rulemaking process. "

    http://www.politico.com/story/... [politico.com]

    Decision 3-6-14:
    http://www.kramerlevin.com/fil... [kramerlevin.com]

  • Say it's a personal quest for fame and glory.
  • by Animats (122034) on Saturday April 12, 2014 @04:29PM (#46735559) Homepage

    The trouble with drones is that most of them don't have enough sensing to avoid other aircraft. Most don't have aviation transponders. Yet some of them are big enough that they're a hazard to other aircraft. Many of them can get 500 feet above ground level (AGL). (Aircraft other than helicopters are supposed to stay 500' AGL, 1000' AGL in congested areas. Around airports, airspace is controlled all the way to the ground.) This puts them in conflict with other aircraft. Here's a small Parrot drone at 1553 feet in the UK. [parrot.com] It's little, but if it was sucked into a jet engine, the engine would definitely be damaged and might fail. In 2013, someone was flying a drone near JFK in New York and the drone had a near miss with a jetliner. [popsci.com]

    The Academy of Model Aeronautics used to have a 450' AGL rule, and the FAA has a clear rule about doing anything off the ground within 5 miles of an airport without coordination with the tower. That's enough to keep the little guys from interfering with aircraft.

    The other side of this is that aircraft regulated by the FAA are considered not to be violating the property rights of the property overflown. Being overflown at 100' by an HDTV camera isn't a hazard to aviation, but property owners may object.

    • oh, wait - that's just FOD. Sorry 'bout downing your aircraft - which needn't be a jet aircraft. What happens when a prop driven aircraft hits a much smaller, possibly hard to see drone? Hint - no aircraft in the history of mankind has gotten stuck up there.
    • by mpe (36238) on Saturday April 12, 2014 @05:57PM (#46736049)
      Here's a small Parrot drone at 1553 feet in the UK. It's little, but if it was sucked into a jet engine, the engine would definitely be damaged and might fail. In 2013, someone was flying a drone near JFK in New York and the drone had a near miss with a jetliner.

      Unless drones were to start flying in large numbers of "flocks" they are unlikely to be as big a hazard to aircraft as birds.
    • by Rich0 (548339)

      The main thing preventing drone operators from using transponders is the FAA - I believe that transponders are required to be TSOed and that makes them REALLY expensive. As radio devices they can only be operated as licensed and I think that some of the rules for ADS-B transmitters basically require them to be assigned to a registered plane and permanently attached.

      If regulations were relaxed or the FAA put in a bulk order for transponders there is no reason that you couldn't build them for $100, making th

The economy depends about as much on economists as the weather does on weather forecasters. -- Jean-Paul Kauffmann

Working...