For as long as manned airplanes have been flying, hobbyists, researchers and entrepreneurs have been flying smaller unmanned aircraft. Throughout most of this time, these aircraft were simply model airplanes, helicopters, or multirotors. In the last 15 years, however, a new term has arisen to describe this class of flying vehicle: drones. A massive growth in the industry spurred on by advancing technology and increased public interest arrived with this reclassification. Now, after more than 30 years of stagnant legislation the FAA, spurred on by congress and increased media coverage of “drones,” is taking action to regulate these vehicles. Herein we encounter the problem.
According to the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA), flying model airplanes surged into popularity in the 1930’s. It was around this time that the first kits became available to the public, and organizations and clubs began forming around the hobby. The hobby grew rapidly as airplane designs diversified, but everything was still constrained to a style of flight known as ‘control line,’ in which the model are tethered to the pilot with steel cables. The advent and proliferation of early radio control systems allowed for continued growth of the hobby. Modellers flew under various regulatory bodies until the FAA issued guidelines in 1981 to upheld by the AMA. Those rules, which keep model pilots away from airports and below 400 feet, stand to this day.
The main goal of the FAA’s regulations are to keep model aircraft out of the way of full scale aircraft. A collision between an unmanned aerial vehicle and a manned aircraft, would almost certainly bring down both aircraft. Up until fairly recently, the regulation appeared to be successful. However, this year the FAA reports that “Close calls of drones flying near airplanes and crowds in the U.S. have surged this year to more than 40 a month.”