Editorial: hobby FPV pilots, FAA and Amazon, oh my

December 4, 2013 13:00 | By | 1 Comment

This week was abuzz with the news about Amazon supposedly giving serious thought to using multicopters as delivery tools. Aside from the obvious fact that this was an extremely well-executed advertisement, with amazon getting as much as a full page in every major newspaper for free, there are so many unanswered questions surrounding this proposed delivery method that one might question the seriousness of this whole idea.

And the FAA, finally waking up from their ten-year slumber, struggles to cope with the sudden onslaught of news stories about farmers using small UAS for monitoring crops, checking up on their cattle, etc. – something sparked off by recent movies perhaps. And interestingly enough, the FAA now timidly endorses the use of said agricultural drones.

With other countries such as Canada now also contemplating on how to regulate civilian drone use, private commercial and non-commercial FPV is far from saved. In fact, many countries have now enacted rules that either heavily regulate commercial RC and FPV flights, enact restrictive altitude and range limits for non-commercial RC vehicles, or both. One thing is clear: Nobody wants to endanger any lives. The problem is that heavyhanded regulation is not an answer to such safety concerns, as there are already plenty of laws and regulations regarding civilian air traffic control. Nor do we need new laws to solve “privacy issues”. In most countries it’s already illegal to film people in their home without their consent, or similar things that politicians are adamant about trying to protect us from.

You’ll notice that the state always tries to reserve the right to invade your privacy, to keep us all safe of course. And yet serious privacy transgressions almost always are the result of misuse of such authority. Perhaps it’s time to tell people to stop worrying about a RC model pilot “filming your bedroom”, but instead start worrying about the future police and state-owned UAVs recording details of your private life to, say, use against you if the government deems it useful to their current goal.

To that end, why is it that so many countries make a difference between private RC flight, and commercial RC flight? What difference does it make if the pilot of an RC airplane or helicopter earns money with his flight or not? Why does it stop being a “model aircraft” as soon as money is involved?

Back when the printing press made it possible to break the monopoly of a select few on producing books and spreading information, their reaction was one of agressive counter-attack. Printing presses were something that needed to be “regulated”. When the internet made it possible for people to instantly share information and directly communicate, this too became a tool of power – and like any such tool, once its potential was realized by the people in power, they sought control over it.

RC model aircraft, with or without cameras, are much the same. They were regarded as toys for over 50 years, but now that we know how to use them as the empowering information-gathering and utility tools they are, the powers-that-be seek to control and regulate. But make no mistake: This is not something that will be limited to multicopters and RC vehicles with cameras. RC flight as a whole runs the risk of being the victim of severe restrictions, none of which having anything to do with the safety of manned flight or the privacy of individuals.

RC flight should not be limited any more than necessary, which means line of sight and within visual range. Conversely, the use of police and state operated drones should be heavily regulated and under constant public scrutiny. In the whole private/commercial FPV and UAV debate, we may well run the risk of compromising too much.

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FPVCentral is a private, independent news and review site for all things related to First Person View RC model flight. Covering everything from hobby, commercial and military drones, RC models and electronics related to FPV flight, we are not sponsored by any manufacturer or affiliated with any company or project.

Comments (1)

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  1. Kieran says:

    I agree about the need to regulate the use of drones by police, especially for cases where it used to for monitoring citizens. However, at the same time I think there should be some “common sense” regulations for flying drones, quads, etc for personal use. I think one of the greatest risks is possible collisions between quads and small single or multi passenger aircraft. (As has also been seen from aircraft strikes from things such as Estes model rockets.)

    I do however think the current laws regarding FPV transmission (needing to have a HAMM license in the US for example) should be reviewed.

    The FAA also needs to update the guidelines to allow for some commercial usage of quads and drones. However, I personally would see a scary future if organizations such as Facebook were allowed to collect any and all data from such operations without control.

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