The Liberty Gazette
February 24, 2015Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Mike: We have not shared any real favorable opinions about drones in this space in the past editions, and we’re not about to start now. With the new proposed rules from the FAA on the commercial use of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) moving forward, while some in the pilot community reportedly have a "positive response", drones are still a threat to pilots. Yes, this latest version proposed appears to tighten the rules some, but if rules affecting the use of drones are not enforced properly, the results will be more than just the annoyance of a toy buzzing around near an airplane, it will be downright dangerous.
Let’s put it in perspective. When testing aircraft for certification against bird strikes, the FAA regulations require a bird, or pseudo bird, be fired out of a cannon at an aircraft’s windshield.
Birds are hurled at increasing velocities until the designed speed of the aircraft is reached without damage to the windshield, or, the FAA will limit the speed at which the aircraft may fly at lower altitudes in areas where they are likely to encounter birds because, after all, we can’t outlaw bird flight.
Here’s a little more detail: the test bird must be thawed, and it weighs only four pounds.
All this time and money would not be spent on testing bird strikes with four-pound test objects if there was no significant threat to safety of flight at low levels, near birds.
The proposed regulation will allow drones up to 55 pounds to fly in line of the operator’s sight, as high as 500 feet from the ground, outside of controlled airspace. That includes the Liberty Municipal Airport, which is in Class G airspace up to 700 feet above the ground. If one of these were to be encountered by an aircraft landing here, it would do a lot more damage than a soft, feathery, four-pound bird.
Remember the tense moments endured by the crew and passengers of the America West A320 that landed in the Hudson River, under the expert control of Captain Sullenburger? Those birds each weighed far less than 55 pounds, and their little bodies had plenty more give than the parts of a drone.
Linda: We’re barely touching the surface here. Who is going to fly these drones? The FAA will require drone operators to be licensed, but let’s be realistic. As is the case with ultra-light aircraft, anyone can buy a drone and start flying it. If someone buys one, how much self-control will they have to keep from flying it until they are legally qualified? How much professionalism will they exercise in its operation?
How safe will the skies be when they unleash these deadly weapons into the National Airspace? What will be the penalty for slamming a drone into an aircraft, causing injury, or worse – death?
July 8 last year we wrote about Dangerous Drones, and shared a few quotes from military (supposedly experts) drone operators. One of those was from Maj. Richard Wageman, commenting on the crash of a Predator drone at Kandahar Air Base in 2008: "As the plane was going down, all I saw were tents and I was afraid that I had killed someone. I felt numb…"
The truth is that even a highly qualified, licensed pilot does not have their own skin hundreds of feet in the air at the moment his drone impacts an airplane, while the pilot inside the aircraft suddenly looses control because the guy on the ground had an "oops" moment. There are too many critical uncertainties.
While we appreciate the benefits possible in finding missing people hard to locate in densely forested areas, having experienced a close call with an illegally flown drone, we strongly oppose the commercial use of drones.