A 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.
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.