Editorial: FAA overreaches on hobby flight regs

  • Drone and control unit used by Mike Duhl, a Deerfield hobby-flight enthusiast. Staff photo/Zack DeLuca

Published: 3/6/2020 9:40:32 AM
Modified: 3/6/2020 9:40:19 AM

Flying model airplanes and miniature aeronautic equipment is a popular hobby in our area. The Franklin County Radio Control Club states as its mission “to provide a safe learning environment for all aspects of RC aero-modeling, for members to share experiences and to promote the highest levels of safety for all aero-modeling activities.” Every spring, the club sponsors an RC flea market at the Tech School that attracts enthusiasts looking for parts, and the club’s Father’s Day Fun Fly at the Turners Falls Airport introduces the younger generation to aviation and the STEM skills (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) that it fosters.

Sounds like a great hobby, right? Yet the Federal Aviation Administration proposes to treat this community as if it were a nest of incipient terrorists by regulating it out of existence.

Among its proposed rules, the FAA would ban the right to repair, “which is the big thing,” according to James Hanaburgh and Mike Duhl, co-owners of Ronin Audio Productions of Sunderland. Duhl, who has a degenerative disease that affects his spine and mobility, enjoys flying his drone along the Mount Sugarloaf tree line near his house. Duhl designs and builds his own drone parts using a 3-D printer and purchases various parts from dozens of small businesses to piece together a single drone, as reported last week. Under the new regulations, Duhl said assembling his drones this way would be illegal. Anyone purchasing drones, or parts for their drone, will only be allowed to buy them from certified companies. As of now, there are no such certified companies. Duhl said it would put a financial barrier on small companies that currently operate and may want to become certified.

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.

Drone users would also need to register any drone weighing over 250 grams (about half a pound) and get a remote ID register, which costs about $30 per drone. For those who own multiple drones, that cost multiplies fast. They would also be required to purchase and use an ID tag that would report the location of both the drone and the pilot and send it to a public app. “They could constantly police you,” Duhl said, adding “who could access that information?”

Can you hear the cash register going ker-chink? Follow the money and you would see drone buyers channeled toward “certified” businesses that have paid a fee to the FAA. (And if the marijuana industry is any guide, those fees will be hefty.)

Additionally, enthusiasts will be limited in where they can fly. Under the proposed rules, they would only be allowed in certified fly-spaces.

Fines for breaking the proposed regulations would range anywhere from $1,400 to $30,000.

All of this amounts to a deal-breaker for the hobbyist who wishes to enjoy assembling and flying remote-controlled miniature aircraft.

Last weekend, Duhl attended a peaceful protest he helped organize in Washington, D.C. at FAA headquarters. We support Duhl’s call for “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.

“I got into this as a kid with RC planes,” Duhl said. Now he fears that the new rules would deter others from developing that same passion.

What’s next … FAA regs on model trains?


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