In response to proposed FAA regulations, local hobby-flight enthusiasts to protest in Washington D.C.

  • Mike Duhl said it costs a few hundred dollars to buy the parts that he doesn’t 3-D print, and assemble the whole drone himself. Under new proposed Federal Aviation Association regulations, Duhl said assembling his drones this way would be illegal. STAFF PHOTO/ZACK DELUCA

  • Mike Duhl, a Deerfield hobby-flight enthusiast, is heading to Washington D.C. this weekend for a protest at the Federal Aviation Administration headquarters in opposition to proposed regulations on remote-controlled hobby flight for planes and drones. STAFF PHOTO/ZACK DELUCA

  • Mike Duhl turns on his first person view flight goggles as he prepares for his drone’s takeoff in Deerfield. STAFF PHOTO/ZACK DELUCA

  • Mike Duhl, of Deerfield, designs and builds his own drone parts using a 3-D printer. He builds his drones for racing and recreation, purchasing various parts from dozens of small businesses to piece together a single drone. STAFF PHOTO/ZACK DELUCA

  • Mike Duhl, of Deerfield, shows how he operates his remote-controlled drones and first person view flight goggles. Duhl is heading to Washington D.C. this weekend for a protest at the Federal Aviation Administration headquarters in opposition to proposed regulations on remote-controlled hobby flight for planes and drones. STAFF PHOTO/ZACK DELUCA

Staff Writer
Published: 2/26/2020 10:06:45 PM

DEERFIELD — A Deerfield hobby-flight enthusiast is heading to Washington D.C. this weekend for a protest at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) headquarters in opposition to proposed regulations on remote-controlled hobby flight for planes and drones.

Mike Duhl is a co-owner of Ronin Audio Productions with James Hanaburgh. In addition to participating in the protest, the two co-workers and friends will film the event. The peaceful protest will begin with a picket Friday and another full-day event Saturday.

“It’s starting to go viral,” Duhl said of the campaign and protest. “There’s a whole community looking to us to save hobby flight.”

He created a website, helpsaveourhobby.com, to continue spreading the word and recruiting hobbyists from across the nation. The website and movement has now gained a large following. He said there are hundreds of other drone hobbyists within Massachusetts, and roughly a quarter million people nationally. Fines for breaking the proposed regulations, Duhl said, would range anywhere from $1,400 to $30,000.

The website states “the peaceful protest will be held to send a message to the FAA and the general public that we do not want these NPRM (Notice of Proposed Rulemaking) rules to be made final without major changes that take into account our free access to airspace for recreational activities using the equipment we all built and use and maintain safely every day.”

Having access to the simple technology was inspiring for Duhl to learn at a young age, he said, and he fears it would deter others from developing that same passion. Drones and other remote-controlled (RC) aircrafts are a great way to get people, including the younger generation, interested in aviation as well as other skills involving STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education Duhl said.

“I got into this as a kid with RC planes,” he said. “I’m technically savvy, running a sound company because of the access to electronic technology as a kid.”

Now, at 37 years old, flying drones and remote-controlled planes remains a beloved hobby for Duhl. He has ankylosing spondylitis, a degenerative disease that affects his spine and mobility. Duhl used to be a skateboarder, and while he can’t cruise around on his board anymore, he said flying drones with first person view goggles has brought him a similar thrill and joy. While it is now difficult for him to hike Mount Sugarloaf near his house, Duhl can fly his drone along the tree line and still explore the outdoors.

“This will ban the right to repair, which is the big thing,” Hanaburgh said of the Federal Aviation Administration’s proposed regulations.

Duhl designs and builds his own drone parts using a 3-D printer. He builds his drones for racing and recreation, purchasing various parts from dozens of small businesses to piece together a single drone.

“These are carbon fiber frames we solder together ourselves,” Duhl said. “They smack into a tree at 80 miles an hour and we fix them ourselves.”

Duhl said his drones, like many others, can travel up to 5 miles away from the pilot and move up to 100 miles per hour. Right now it costs a few hundred dollars to buy the parts that he doesn’t 3-D print. Under the new regulations, Duhl said assembling his drones this way would be illegal.

Some of his friends use drones for filming professionally, but Duhl said their businesses will also be affected by the new oversight rules. Anyone purchasing drones, or parts for their drone, will only be allowed to buy them from certified companies. As of right now, there are no such certified companies. He said it would put a financial barrier on small companies that can currently operate and may want to become certified.

Additionally, they will be limited in where they can fly. Hobbyists used to be able to fly in most fields and areas, but could not fly over roads or in designated spaces. Now they would only be allowed in certified fly-spaces. Drone users would also need to register any drone weighing over 250 grams and get a remote ID register, which costs roughly $30 per drone.

For those who own multiples drones, like Duhl, that price multiplies fast. They would also be required to purchase and use an ID tag that reports the location of both the drone and the pilot. Duhl and Hanaburgh viewed this as a privacy and safety issue.

“They could constantly police you,” Duhl said. “It’s supposed to be sent to a public app — who could access that information?”

The models for most hobby drones and planes on the market now, both for fully assembled drones and separate parts, will be illegal in two to three years after the new regulations take effect.

The protest is going to Washington D.C. this weekend, with the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) public comment period closes on March 2. The First Person View Freedom Coalition is one of the organizations working to protect the public’s ability to continue flying.

“It all started with a meme,” Duhl said. “There was ‘Raid the FAA’ — a play on the Area 51 raid memes.”

According to Duhl, the campaign was birthed after he and others began creating and sharing the memes in disapproval of the regulations. One meme, he said, saw a father and son flying a drone with the caption “FAA designated crime scene.” After they began to catch traction and spark conversation, Duhl helped organized this weekend’s full-scale protest.

While the gathering is in favor of flight, Washington D.C. is a no-fly zone and remote-controlled equipment is not allowed at the protest.

Zack DeLuca can be reached at zdeluca@recorder.com or 413-930-4579.


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