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Over-regulation proven?

15 June 2018

Yes, t'is time for me to subject you to more droning on about drones and the regulations that attempt to control their use.

Pay attention, there will be an exam at the end of class today!

I've long said that drone regulations around the world appear to me more of a knee-jerk reaction from politicians and regulators to a *perceived* risk than anything based on an actual objective, scientific analysis if the real risks involved.

Well, wouldn't you know it... even a report commissioned by the US Congress now agrees with me.

Yes, that's right, experts agree that drone regulations tend to "overestimate the severity and likelihood of potential dangers associated with drones".

So why the hell are our politicians and regulators continuing to listen to crazy reports like this, usually driven by pilots of manned aircraft, eager to protect their livelihoods rather than their lives?

It seems to me that those making the regulations to control drones are still largely "desk pilots" when it comes to this technology. Few (if any) of those who are supposedly smart and informed enough to come up with these regulations have actually had any hands-on experience with that they wish to regulate - which should disqualify them from the responsibilities they hold in such matters.

Why is it that, years after we were warned of the need for harsher drone regulation by politicians, the media and regulators around the world, not one single person has been killed by a recreational multirotor drone?

How could any *competent* regulator have gotten the risk calculations so very, very wrong?

Well it's simple -- we don't have any *competent* people doing those risk calculations.

Sure, the CAA, CASA, FAA, Transport Canada, EASA and the raft of other aviation regulators around the world may have a surfeit of experience, knowledge and understanding of manned aviation -- but they seem to know very little about unmanned aviation, and remain steadfastly unwilling to acknowledge that deficiency.

The problem becomes even more significant when you realise that people holding a pilot's license are a much different group than those who simply opt to buy a flying-camera drone from the local department store.

As part of their training, the pilots of manned aircraft are taught self-discipline and are acutely aware that their "right to fly" is on the line if they transgress any of the regulations that govern them. Not so with the recreational drone flier.

The spotty-faced teen with a racing drone or the middle-aged amateur videographer with a store-bought DJI Phantom have totally different outlooks and cultures to the "real pilots" our aviation regulators are used to dealing with.

It is clear that the regulators have an in-depth understanding (usually) of the theory and practice of manned aviation. Their insight into the things that make manned aviation safe earn them respect within the ranks of the "real pilot" community and respect is the first and most important step in obtaining compliance with regulations.

By comparison, any regulator which demonstrates that it simply doesn't have a clue about something like the risks associated with recreational drone flying (as proven by the US Congress report and by the lack of predicted deaths), will find it hard to earn the respect of a group that has huge restrictions placed on it in the name of so-called safety.

Here in New Zealand, I find that CAA is pretty bad at this.

Incident reports would seem to indicate that the biggest area of non-compliance by drone operators is within the community of recreational users. Why is that?

Well it's probably because, although CAA talks the talk, it does not walk the walk when it comes to consultation with this group.

Around a year ago, CAA engaged in a survey of drone users and that survey produced some very interesting results. However, it very much appears as if CAA didn't like some or all of what it was told by respondents to this survey so it has preferred to use the data contained in this alternative survey which canvassed the users of the Airshare website.

The Airshare website is used by a relatively small percentage of recreational drone users in New Zealand -- since it is focused more on commercial players.

So why is it that CAA, NZALPA and Airways (the three big players in the manned aviation arena) are always quoting the second survey rather than the more inclusive (and therefore more accurately representative) first survey?

Let's just ignore the stuff that doesn't suit our agenda -- perhaps?

I also find it hugely disturbing that, after all this expensive consultation, CAA still hasn't reviewed the drone regulations that have been in effect since 2015, despite the obvious shortcomings of those regulations.

Fortunately, I think we've hit "peak regulation" for recreational drone use. From this point forwards, I expect that regulators will have little option but to acknowledge how flawed their risk analyses (if there has even been any) are. They will have to relax the ropes a little or have their entire credibility called into further question.

Perhaps the best way to address the issue of regulating the activities of a community and a culture which is so different to the traditional aviation community is to vest the power of regulation for recreational drones in a totally separate body.

CAA is filled with ex-airforce personnel who have been brought up on a strict diet of discipline and forced respect for superiors. This culture doesn't have a hope in hell of controlling the actions of a community which has, in many ways, been likened to the skateboarding culture of the 1970s. Perhaps the first step in ensuring good, effective, sensible regulation is to acknowledge that fact.

What do readers think? Are CAA (and so many other airspace regulators around the world) totally out of their depth when it comes to the regulation of recreational drones?

Need proof... CAA still believe it is important that they regulate tiny children's toy drones, often weighing less than 25g and capable of flying just 10m or so from the operator. They also claim that their regulations are risk-based and therefore, given that the same rules apply to that 25g child's toy as apply to a 14Kg octocopter with huge carbon-fibre blades and perhaps 1KW or more of motor power, they expect us to believe that both craft pose an equal risk to the public and other airspace users.

Can you now see why CAA is having trouble gaining the respect of many recreational drone users -- when they tell such huge lies about the risks?

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