First, incontrovertible evidence that the Roswell Flight Test Crew is truly a farce to be reckoned with:
It's hard to know where to even begin with the new FAA rules that could soon the law of the land when it comes to model aviation. This reminds me of when Senate Bill 71 got rolling here in Oregon – except that I immediately grasped that threat.
For me, personally, this latest twist in the seemingly unending saga to establish a regulatory framework for civilian drone operations in the United States came with a slow-burning fuse attached. I was busy with other projects and, frankly, I didn't take the time focus on this subject – even as e-mails with subject lines like, “This is Really BAD!” started stacking up in my inbox.
Part of it, I think, was that I could not conceive that such sweeping, draconian regulations could be put into place by the FAA on a whim. (Actually, there is a pretty good legal argument to be made that they can't – but we don't want to be tied up in court for years on this issue, so long as we have better options available to us).
And, make no mistake, these new rules are terrible. They would undermine everything that many of us have been working on for years. Here are some highlights:
- FPV is gone – a clear violation of FAA regulations;
- All aeromodelers are held to heretofore unimagined standards within the federal aviation regulations requiring, in some instances, that they hold full-sized, manned aircraft pilots' licenses; and,
- Doing pretty much anything related to model aviation for pay – like reviewing a new model for a magazine or receiving a sponsorship – is forbidden.
...and I'm really just scratching the surface here. There are depths of badness within this proposal that require spelunkers more dauntless than myself to bring into the daylight – and perhaps the most galling thing about this proposal is that the FAA could have simply enacted it without allowing public comment. They have given us until July 25 to provide feedback as a “courtesy.”
Okay, so how do we fight this thing? First, if you haven't already – by Da Vinci's beard! – go join the Academy of Model Aeronautics. They are quarterbacking the resistance and they are doing it on behalf of both traditional aeromodelers and the FPV community.
I know from personally speaking with the president, the executive director and the government affairs director, among others, that they are 100 percent behind us – and it's now time for us to stand 100 percent behind them. They are prepared to file a lawsuit against the FAA if we don't get satisfaction on this issue by other means.
Next, you have to understand that this is going to be a protracted struggle that will be fought in stages. This first stage will be fought within the (somewhat unwieldy) confines of the federal rulemaking public comment process. In this venue, simply venting your spleen is insufficient. Even if one million of us wrote in and said, “This is the stupidest thing I have ever heard of in my whole entire life! Make it go away!” – that would only count as one comment.
What is required here is a little more pick-and-spade work: you have to identify one particular part of the rule that you don't like, and specifically say how you would change it. The federal government actually has their own set of guidelines for meaningful participation in the process, which you can read by following this link.
In addition, Matt Mishak – a fellow member of the AMA's SUAS Advisory Group and an adjunct professor at Lorain County Community College near Cleveland – put together a bullet-point list of advice for the would-be commentator.
I'm reproducing it here, with Matt's kind permission, for your edification:
- Clearly identify the issues in the notice you are commenting on. Refer to Docket Number FAA-2014-0396.
- Confine comments to the Federal Register (i.e. Interpretation of the Special Rule for Model Aircraft) notice you are referencing.
- Keep comments targeted to the issues within the scope of the proposed rule.
- Avoid addressing different rules or policies in your comment.
- If you are commenting on a particular word, phrase, or sentence provide the page, number, column, and paragraph citation of the particular issue.
- Clearly indicate if you are for or against the proposed rule or some part of it, and why.
- Agency reviewers look for good science and reasoning in the comments they evaluate. Where available, use data to support your position.
- If a proposed rule raises many issues, do not feel obligated to comment on every one. Select those issues that you are most concerned about, that affect you the most, and that you understand the best.
- If you are commenting in your capacity as a professional (scientist, attorney, hobbyist, businessman, etc.), say so. To the extent appropriate and possible, briefly identify your credentials and experience that may distinguish your comments from others.
- Clearly indicate if you are commenting as an official representative or spokesperson for an organization (i.e. AMA). You might mention the AMA's size, history, and deep stake in the matter. (Or your specific issues as a personal stakeholder).
- To the extent possible, personalize your comments. Give real-life examples of how the proposed rule would impact you negatively or positively. If appropriate, indicate how failures to comply with the proposed regulation may adversely affect you.
- You may want to counter others commenting - research opposing views from your own (they're on the website), and take note of any specific opinions or facts that you disagree with. In your own comments, provide detailed information to counter information you perceive to be incorrect from these other sources.
- Include copies of articles or provide a list of references that support the comments. Only relevant material should be submitted.
- Of course, you courteous, professional, and respectful. Doing otherwise won’t get you anywhere anyway.
- Refrain from using politically-charged rhetoric. A rant may make you feel better, but it will not help the agency resolve any problems.
You can submit your comments online via this website – or go old-school and print them out on paper and mail them to this address:
Docket Operations, M-30
US Department of Transportation
1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE.
West Building Ground Floor, Room W12-140
Washington, DC 20590-0001
Either way, make sure you reference Docket Number FAA-2014-0396 – I'm sure they would gladly take advantage of any excuse to put your comments in the round file at the side of the desk.
It's possible that following the public comment period, the FAA will perceive the wisdom in our collective judgment and yield to our very reasonable requests (yeah, right). If not, we'll move ahead with phase two of our battle plan: going over their heads to our elected representatives in Congress.
After all, the FAA isn't only putting a finger in our eye with this nonsense, they're also clearly going well beyond the bounds Congress gave them in the 2012 re-authorization bill. If there is one thing that I can guarantee that nobody in Congress likes, it's when unelected bureaucrats break the laws that they pass.
Stay tuned to the AMA website for developments regarding this issue, and look for more on this subject from us, as well. This really is the battle of Armageddon for the aeromodeling and FPV communities – we need every single person active and engaged if we're going to prevail.