Following the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) recent 60-day extension of the public comment period for its Interpretation of the Special Rule for Model Aircraft, 30 college professors have used the opportunity to speak out.
According to an Associated Press report, professors from both small, private schools and large, public universities wrote a letter to the FAA to express how they feel the agency’s restrictions for small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are hindering research in the field.
While the FAA currently bans commercial UAV operators, it also keeps researchers who work for private colleges from using UAVs. Those who work for public schools can receive agency authorization to do so, but the process is so difficult to come by – and there are so many rules once they receive permission – that it is often not worth it to try, the letter says.
For example, in April, Minnesota-based Northland Community & Technical College was given a certificate of waiver or authorization (COA) from the FAA to fly UAVs over agricultural areas. The COA stated that Northland must have permission from landowners and the aircraft must stay under 500 feet over farm field locations. In addition, direct line of sight must be maintained between the operator and aircraft, and the imagery collected must be used solely for educational purposes. Of course, however, the rules for keeping a line of sight with the vehicle and flying it under a certain height are not special to this case and already exist in the FAA’s guidelines for UAV usage.
Many colleges and universities have recently added UAV education and training classes and even started offering degrees in the field. Starting in the fall, students at the University of South Florida will even be able to check out a drone from their library.
Although many schools are adopting drone education, a recent Wall Street Journal article points out that because of the FAA’s rules, students are often not even allowed to operate the vehicles.
Paul Voss, who teaches engineering at Smith – a private, women’s college in Massachusetts – took the lead in the letter to the agency, but researchers from all over took part, including from Harvard, Stanford and the University of Michigan.
An excerpt from the letter implies the injustices that the researchers feel they are facing:
‘Under the FAA model aircraft rules, a 10-year-old hobbyist can freely fly model aircraft for recreation, while our nation's scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs are prohibited from using the same technology in the same types of environments.”
The Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) has long spoken out against the FAA’s interpretive rule for model aircraft, calling it “intentionally punitive and retaliatory.” It was the AMA that took credit for the extension of the FAA’s public comment period.
Read the entire Associated Press report here.
The FAA’s Interpretation of the Special Rule for Model Aircraft can be found here.