Once again, AOPA has intervened with the FAA to keep an unregulated unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) operation out of navigable airspace, this time over Palm Bay, Florida.
The Palm Bay police department intended to buy a "CyberBUG" UAV from Cyber Defense Systems. The company sells the small radio-controlled drones as cheap helicopter substitutes for police, military, and news-gathering uses. The 7-pound UAV cruises at 25 mph and is capable of operating at altitudes that put it in navigable airspace, creating a potential midair collision hazard.
For that reason, AOPA has opposed their operation in several different jurisdictions. The association again contacted the FAA, which informed the Palm Bay police department that they could not operate the UAV without a certificate of authorization.
Part of the problem is that the small, radio-controlled drones currently fall into a regulatory gray area. Some contend that small UAVs can be operated under the provisions of Advisory Circular 91-57, "Model Aircraft Operating Standards," which require the drones to remain clear of navigable airspace and below 400 feet agl.
But the FAA says that the AC applies only to individual hobbyists, not commercial or public service operations.
"Because of their relatively low cost, we can expect that many more jurisdictions may try to put these collision hazards aloft," said Melissa Rudinger, AOPA vice president of regulatory affairs. "That's why AOPA will continue to push the FAA to take clear, explicit regulatory control."
January 25, 2007