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Old 05-03-2019, 02:52 PM
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mr_matt
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Financial Times article

Drones

Model aircraft enthusiasts prove unlikely foe for Amazon

Tech industry insiders say hobbyists are effective lobbyists against commercial drones

Harvey Gross assembles his Noorduyn Norseman model plane at Prince George’s Radio Control Club in Upper Marlboro, Maryland © Greg Kahn/FT
May 3, 2019 3:00 am by Kiran Stacey in Upper Marlboro, MarylandMark Kitka does not look like your average activist. A stocky former navy pilot with a neat white moustache, he has spent the last two years lovingly recreating the S3-Viking he flew for the military in near-perfect model form.

But Mr Kitka is also part of a group of model aircraft enthusiasts who have proven to be one of the most effective lobby groups in the US against rules that would allow widespread commercial drone flying.

Technology executives say the Academy of Model Aeronautics has been an unexpectedly powerful opponent in the race to get their aircraft airborne, adding the group is one of the main reasons Amazon and others are still unable to deliver their goods by drone.

“We are all waiting for the Federal Aviation Administration to come up with the rules which would allow commercial drones to fly,” said one lawyer working in the sector. “But every time the regulator proposes something that would also impinge on model aircraft hobbyists, the AMA bombards members of Congress with emails and phone calls.”

The AMA says it wants to be excluded from any rules the FAA proposes, arguing the regulator’s current proposals could cost its members a total of $2bn.

Mr Kitka said the rules could mean each individual hobbyist has to pay hundreds of dollars to fit equipment to their models to allow them to be identified remotely by law enforcement or other agencies.

“Putting a $1,000 transponder on aeroplanes would be the end of model aircraft flying,” he said in a recent interview at his local flying field in rural Maryland.Peter Curtis, left, and Neal Rehm hold their gas-powered planes at Prince George’s Radio Control Club © Greg Kahn/FTUnder current rules, anybody in the US can buy a drone from a shop and fly it almost anywhere, except over certain protected sites. The main restrictions are that fliers cannot fly their aircraft over people, at night or, crucially, out of their line of sight.

Companies wishing to fly drones where their operators cannot see them currently have to register as an airline, as Alphabet’s Wing Aviation did last month. But the cost of complying with airline safety standards is steep, and the FAA is drawing up rules that would allow drones to operate more widely.

According to lawyers and industry experts, however, the main sticking point is remote identification. If commercial drones are to fly beyond the line of sight of their users, law enforcement agencies say they must be able to identify immediately who their owners are — otherwise there will be more incidents such as the one that brought London’s Gatwick airport to a standstill last December.


But given that current laws do not differentiate between drones and model aircraft, model aircraft fliers worry they will be forced to fit heavy and potentially expensive transponders to the outside of their lovingly-made devices.

For some, the added weight could impede their racing performance. For others, it would detract from the perfection of their replicas.

“This S3-Viking is the only one like it in the country,” said Mr Kitka, who has fitted his model with a miniature pilot and printed his own name on the side under the cockpit window. “It is 95 per cent accurate.”

Fellow model aircraft enthusiast Rick Moreland added: “We have competitions to judge how perfect our scale models are. You don’t want anything on the model that wouldn’t be there in real life.”Eric Holmes, a Nasa engineer, holds his Piper Cub radio controlled plane © Greg Kahn/FTCommercial drone operators, however, vociferously oppose any exemptions for model aircraft.

In a submission to the regulator in 2017, the Commercial Drone Alliance argued: “For tracking regulation to be successful, it is imperative that any such regulations encompass all but the smallest and most unsophisticated UAS [unmanned aircraft systems] in order to be effective.”

The regulator is due to publish its recommendations on remote identification later this year, but the date keeps getting pushed back as it looks for ways to accommodate the concerns of various groups, including the model aircraft community.

The FAA said: “We look forward to engaging with the model aircraft community when the time comes to ensure the policy that is eventually implemented focuses on the safety and security of the national airspace for all participants, as well as protecting people and property on the ground, while also continuing to support a vibrant model aircraft community to the maximum extent feasible.”

Many commercial drone advocates say they have been surprised at how effective the AMA’s lobbying effort has been. “We didn’t realise they were so well connected on Capitol Hill,” said one tech industry lobbyist.

A look around the clubhouse at Mr Kitka’s flying field helps explain why. Both he and Mr Moreland are former military members. Eric Holmes, another club member, is an aerospace engineer at Nasa. Ray Stinchcomb worked for years at the FAA.

“The AMA have been great advocates on remote identification,” said Mark Aitken, a senior policy adviser and drone specialist at the Washington law firm Akin Gump. “They have done very well on understanding and navigating the political lay of the land.”

A technology industry lobbyist put it more bluntly. “The AMA is a very powerful group in US politics. It’s something the commercial drone industry has struggled to grapple with.”

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Old 05-03-2019, 06:11 PM
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sounds like some misdirection from the tech folks to me.
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Old 05-05-2019, 10:07 AM
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"Folks, get ready for the epic battle between the Droners and the Fixed Wingers!"
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Old 05-05-2019, 05:10 PM
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i think i would rephrase that to:

epic battle between the fpvers and the true los folks...
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