If Democrats become the majority party in the U.S. House of Representatives as of the November election, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) is likely to become the Chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which is responsible for the FAA.

DeFazio has expressed support for:

  • All drones should be registered and licensed.
  • All drones should have mandatory transponder beacon IDs.
  • All drones sold in the U.S. should have mandatory geo-fencing built-in, preventing them from flight in certain specified airspace. “My biggest problem has been idiots with toy drones,” DeFazio said. “Why we allow any toy drone to be sold without geo-fencing is remarkable to me.”
  • A more rigorous licensing exam for commercial drone pilots, and a licensing exam for hobbyist pilots with concern over “the ease by which a private citizen can earn a federal drone operators license”.
  • DeFazio supports the development of drone technology for business. Business interests are the primary focus and driver of the regulations.
  • Supports technology to “passively detect, identify and track UAS or aerial drones and their ground-based operators” and “force the drone to land” in “designated safe sites around airports”.

My thoughts are that numerous idiots in the drone community are flying drones recklessly, over people, close to airfields,  over 25 mile distances, flagrantly ignoring regulations and common sense. The very people who do not want more regulations are, by their own actions, begging for more regulations. They truly are idiots who are ruining hobby model aviation for everyone else. The FAA lacks an ability to enforce existing rules against these individuals due to a lack of resources, so these individuals continue posting YouTube videos showing their reckless flights.

Where this is heading is seems obvious:

  • If DeFazio is head of the committee the current Section 336 law concerning model aircraft will be rescinded and replaced. The new rules will probably limit regulations for hobby model aircraft flown only at “community-based” model airfields
  • Outside of model airfields, all model aircraft will be heavily regulated and require a beacon ID transponder.
  • All flights will likely require a pre-filed flight plan with the FAA through an app on your phone. Authorization for the flight will likely be required before flying.
  • Flights conducted outside of model airfields will eventually require a license. There may be two classes of license – the commercial remote pilot license and a private remote pilot license.
  • Commercially sold “Consumer drones” (how will that be defined?) will require on board GPS and geo-fencing. Will existing drones be grandfathered in or grounded from further use? What about home made drones?

None of the above will be free. Mandatory geofencing will raise the cost of small “toy” class drones (many of which do not currently have GPS). Mandatory beacon IDs will add costs. Will existing drones being grandfathered or will they be required to be destroyed?

There are implementation costs (the flight plan filing and ATC authorization system), operational costs and enforcement costs. Which leads to:

  • licensing fees – currently about US$150 every 2 years.
  • registration fees – currently $5 every 3 years
  • user fees – unknown but consider a $1 or $2 fee each time a flight plan is filed for flight outside a model airfield.

These costs will act as barriers to entry to the burgeoning “quadcopter” community, likely stifling its future growth, if not causing it to shrink. Model aviation will likely continue at existing airfields. However, model aviation’s current growth has come from drone enthusiasts who want to get more involved in model aviation.  If access to drones is made difficult, this pipeline feeding into model aviation will be reduced.

Congressional representatives want to act quickly on legislation concerning drone activity. It seems likely that portions of the above would be implemented as soon as January 1, 2020.

It is also possible that little of the above will happen. But that seems unlikely. Perhaps there is an yet unidentified “third way” that will reduce risks at low costs while meeting the safety needs of the FAA and business users.