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An Aerial Land Grab

_MG_4923A couple of interesting articles appeared recently that, at first, seem unrelated.

The media has been beside itself with fearmongering after reports that a Skyjet flight was struck by a drone while inbound to Jean Lesage International Airport in Quebec City.

This was followed yesterday by an announcement that the White House is set to Test Federal-Local Sharing of Drone Regulation, establishing test sites for promoting commercial-drone use by dividing oversight This would entail the FAA having authority over commercial drone operations between 200 feet and 400 feet in the designated test areas, with drones at lower altitudes regulated by states, counties or localities.

How are these two related?  The unfounded fear generated by the first article paves the way for greater regulation.  And where regulations are concerned, businesses with large coffers for lobbying generally win.

But let’s go step by step.  First, why do I believe that the fear is unfounded?  Simple.  Knowledgeable people such as John Goglia, a former NTSB member, and airline mechanic said so in a Forbes article titled A Small Drone Hits A Commercial Airliner…And Nothing Happens.  To quote John

While no one wants drones and aircraft in the same airspace at the same time, the hysteria surrounding the possibility of aircraft hitting small drones and causing a disaster is unjustified.  And often leads – as it is now – to calls for greater regulation of small drones.

Never waste a good crisis

Someone once said, never waste a good crisis and so the timing of the announcement carving out the altitude from 200 – 400ft above ground level (AGL) seems, in my more tin foil hat moments, a little suspicious.

Photo: Amazon.com

Amazon has been making a play to grab this prime air real estate for some time now, as outlined in their proposal called Revising the Airspace Model for the Safe
Integration of Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems 

In there they propose

  • Airspace below 200 feet, or the ‘Low-Speed Localized Traffic’ area, will be reserved for non-transit operations such as surveying, videography and inspection
  • A ‘High-Speed Transit’ space, between 200 and 400 feet, will be designated for well equipped [very expensive] vehicles as determined by the relevant performance standards and rules.

Amazon wants half of the airspace currently available to commercial and hobby drones carved out for their exclusive use.  And the half they want is the part that doesn’t contain trees, power lines, and other obstacles.

As a certificated remote pilot, I can tell you that 400ft isn’t very high.

When taking photographs and video I will regularly bump up against the 400ft ceiling and, if working around tall buildings, can legally go much higher.

I’m not against the idea of a highway for drones.  But why take it away from the group that already has the least?  Push this up between 400 and 600ft AGL and we could keep everyone happy.

But, as this stands it is an aerial land grab, pure and simple.  Once that commercial zone has been established it will be virtually impossible to undo.

If the lobbyists of Amazon get their way small business and hobbyists will lose access to this critical piece of the nation’s airspace forever.   

4 Responsesso far.

  1. I’m not a frequent drone airspace user but I do work for other companies and work of my own as well. This news is pretty disturbing and would kill many businesses especially in larger urban areas.

    • Barry says:

      You are correct. One thing that I didn’t cover in that (to avoid overloading people) is that the announcement from the White House would also provide local authorities with the ability to regulate the airspace up to 200′. Once that opens up it will be almost impossible to figure out where you can and cannot legally fly as each location would have the right to make their own rules. Many would outright ban. Many more would require permits as just another means of generating revenue.

  2. Jim says:

    Wow this is not a good idea at all. No way. Let them have the 400 to 600 foot range. That would be a way better idea for sure. This can only lead to trouble for Business and us hobby flyers. I have 10 drones and 8 are outside fliers we also have a lot invested in our Hobbies as well. Almost $3,00.00 just my self. If they have to open up new ventures than the 400 to 600 air space is the best way to go.

    • Barry says:

      Agreed. Another point which has been raised is that the drones they want in that 200′ corridor are supposed to be super advanced (e.g. expensive) and such things should easily be able to stay within a 50ft band, so why be so greedy?