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Model aircraft hobbyists fight back against proposed rules on drones

By DALE DENWALT | The Oklahoman | Published: February 11, 2020

(Tribune News Service) — Proposed federal rules to monitor drones in flight also would affect a group of hobbyists who build and fly model airplanes.

The Academy of Model Aeronautics and its members are pushing back against the remote identification rules announced by the Federal Aviation Administration. The FAA wants unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) to have remote ID technology, similar to an airplane's transponder, built into almost every drone heavier than about half a pound.

Remote ID would allow people on the ground and in the air to see a drone's location and ownership information.

"As a pilot, my eye is always on safety first," FAA Administrator Steve Dickson said when the rules were introduced. "Safety is a joint responsibility between government, pilots, the drone community, the general public and many others who make our nation so creative and innovative."

But the Academy of Model Aeronautics and model pilots in Oklahoma believe the proposed rules are too restrictive. Phil Marrs of the model airplane group Shawnee Thunderbirds said remote ID could harm the community's hobbyists.

While the rule would force many drones to individually broadcast information while in flight, other UAS could fly within 400 feet of a control station. The station would then transmit information via the internet about its location and the unmanned aircraft within to its control area.

But 400 feet is too small an area for some aircraft, like radio-controlled gliders, Marrs said. With 10-foot wingspans, he said, some large unmanned gliders regularly fly beyond that limit during competitions.

"If the proposal goes as planned, it would basically kill a percentage of the (Academy of Model Aeronautics) competition categories," Marrs said. "They just flat would have to stop. This competition has been going on well over 50 years."

Additionally, requiring every UAS to install its own unique identifying transmitter would add an enormous cost on a low-risk aircraft, he said.

The FAA is taking public comment on the rule until March 2. The Academy of Model Aeronautics is encouraging its members to write to the FAA and suggest giving organizations like itself more flexibility to establish and maintain fixed flying sites that would satisfy remote ID compliance.

The organization also wants the FAA to create a path for compliance at its events and competitions that take place outside of those fixed sites.

Connectivity is an issue, too. All remote ID options proposed by the FAA would require access to the internet for live and accurate tracking.

"The rule should account for situations where there is no internet connectivity, as many safe places to fly are in rural areas with little or no service," the Academy of Model Aeronautics said in a blog post.

Finally, the Academy of Model Aeronautics has asked that the rule not require model aircraft owners to individually register every aircraft.

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