New FAA drone rules: What could possibly go wrong?

As a bicycle rider on public streets, this much I know: In a collision with a car, the car is going to come out the winner. So, yeah, we share the roads, but I defer to the cars and trucks as senior partners. Just the other day I thought a dump truck at the left edge of a lane at a T-intersection was going to make a left, so I started to make a left at his outside — standard procedure. Except he was making a right. We both realized at the same moment. He slammed on the brakes. I squeezed my brakes, unclipped  my left foot and stopped too. I said to myself, “Nice dump truck” the way you’d say “Nice doggie” to a big Doberman that decided not to bite you.

Visual contact — still a reliable way to avoid crashes.

When it comes to drones and actual airplanes, the stakes reverse. Now the FAA has finally released rules for operation of commercial, unmanned aircraft that weigh less than 55 pounds. (Rules for recreational drones are already out). Four years in the making, the rules will uncork what looks to be an industry ready to pop.

What’s been the holdup? Basically, the fact that manned and unmanned aircraft make a potentially dangerous mix. Sure, the ducks don’t survive the encounter with the air shuttle to LaGuardia, but the shuttle may not survive it either.

Physics can be funny.

A dump truck weighs, let’s say, 20,000 pounds. My carbon bike and I together weigh around 180 pounds, including water bottles. That’s a ratio of more than 100:1. A collision at even 10 miles per hour — I don’t even want to think about it.

A loaded Boeing 737 weighs around 115,000 pounds. To the 55-pound drone, that’s a ratio of roughly 2,090:1. And yet if it hits in the right way, at a closing speed of 300 or 400 miles per hour, the teeny drone can down the big, heavy plane. No wonder the FAA has taken its time.

The agency caught heat for how long it took to issue the rules, which came out yesterday. My feeling is, the world has gotten to this point in history just fine without having drones delivering a case of cold long-necks from the local packie.

Many of the rules for the commercial drones match those of recreational ones. Only now the FAA states the new rules permit “transportation of property … for compensation or hire.” This is what the drone industry and it proponents have been pushing for — commercial delivery of pizza or shoelaces by drone.

The FAA has already issued thousands of waivers for commercial drones ahead of the rules. An industry, mainly doing survey and structure inspection work, has already spring up. Now, though, more industries will adopt drone use. If you put your house on the market, expect real estate agent-operated ‘copters to buzz your yard.

Basically, operators must have good eyesight (or use glasses), have some training and register their quad-copters or whatever they fly. Pilots have to keep the thing in sight, and below 400 feet. Drones can go higher if surveying, say, a tall building, but they can’t go more than 400 feet higher than the structure’s high point. Drones can’t go faster than 100 mph. No flying at people. And of course, pilots have the obligation to keep clear of manned aircraft.

The saga continues. Drones don’t top out at 55 pounds. The AP quoted a White House economist saying the rules are the first step toward full integration of drones in the national airspace system. Don’t hold your breath. Wait until drones actually do become fully integrated.

Copyright © 2023 Federal News Network. All rights reserved. This website is not intended for users located within the European Economic Area.