Tuesday, June 25, 2019

So Wait: I Need A Trained Bald Eagle To Neutralize A Nuisance Drone? Yeppers, According to Federal Law

One of these intruders snapping your wife on camera while she's sun bathing in the nude? You are not allowed by law to shoot it down . You need to rent or get a bird of prey to bring it down.

Image result for brane space, drones

The stories reeled off in the recent WSJ 'Mansions' piece ('Spies From Above', June 21) had me truly wondering whether this country has truly gone round the bend or is merely in a temporary nervous breakdown.  The accounts spanned the gamut but all focused on the increasing invasion of air space and private space now - by drones. 

For example, we read of Shelley West, 54, who happened to be sunbathing in the nude behind the 6 foot high stone wall of her gated community in Indio, CA, last April  To her shock and surprise she began dozing off when the faint whirring sound made her realize a drone was directly above her.  In Ms. West's own words, quoted in the piece:

"If I had a BB gun I would have loved to....shoot it down!"

Ah, my fair lady, point well taken but that rash (but just!) action might have earned you a trip to the slammer.  As the piece goes on to point out for anyone who also harbors such visions of retribution for a nuisance drone:

"It is a federal crime to bring down a drone or any other aircraft regulated by the FAA, according to the federal agency. It is also illegal to use jamming equipment to interrupt the signal between the drone and its operator, per Federal Communications Commission regulations."

Even if the drone is outside your kids' bedroom window with camera aimed inside?  Yep, you cannot shoot the little beastie  down with your Glock .45 or jam it to  interrupt the invasive signals the renegade drone operator is sending to get whatever kicks.

The article goes on to say that "nervous homeowners" desperate to reclaim their privacy even beseech an outfit called 'Drone Shield', asking for weapons to "defeat the drone and take it down".  However, Oleg Vornik - DroneShield CEO - must break the news to these forlorn folks that "it can't legally sell any equipment to ordinary U.S. citizens."

So what are desperate people being invaded by these flying spies supposed to do? Just grin and bear it?  Well, no.  One option is to buy one of the company's "drone detection" products to pinpoint the location of the drone operator. You can then phone it in to the nearest FAA office....if you can get a human on the other end  of the line.

The other option is to purchase or rent a drone-hunting bird of prey.   For example, 'Guard from Above',   a company based in The Hague (Holland), trains bald eagles to hunt down and immobilize drones.  Most clients who can afford them, want to have the birds on patrol 24/7 - but that means based at their residence - which "requires a bird quarter".   This is a specially protected space where the birds "can bathe,  feed and move around comfortably based on the company guidelines".   These have to then comply with various country, state and county regulations, according to CEO and founder, Sjoerd Hoogendoorn.

Oh yeah, before I forget, "a professional bird handler is also required."   Can't just have any doofus managing these specially trained avians!  Part of their job is to "feed the birds several kinds of meat"  and "keep tabs on them using GPS trackers."

Among the most baffling aspects we also learn in the piece, which one supposes has been written tongue-in -cheek (but maybe not) is:

"FAA regulations are designed to protect the safety of the skies, not personal privacy and residential security."

Well, pardon me if I laugh.  The FAA "protect the safety of the skies" when thousands of these flying doodads are invading commercial air space almost every day  - and airline pilots often have to veer to miss them?  Give me a break.  IF the FAA were truly serious about such "protection", then: a) they would never have allowed so many to be unregulated in the first place, and b) should have pushed hard (against the drone makers) to have operators qualify by taking actual pilot's tests.  After all, they are piloting these craft in air space and often making dangerous incursions into commercial air space.

As I have argued before, all operators of drones - of whatever scale- need to be licensed to fly them, operate them. You shouldn't be able to just amble into a hobby store and buy one like you'd buy a model plane kit.  This is especially so given the FAA is granting the same gravitas vis-a vis no artificial interference (shooting, jamming) rules , for example, as it grants to commercial planes in U.S. airspace.   In other words, if drones are also regarded as aircraft that "can't be brought down" - i.e. because they are "regulated by the FAA" - then it stands to reason ALL the regulations that apply ought to conform to the SAME stringent standards.

There cannot be differing standards for airplanes and drones if the same severe prohibitions of interference apply.

 That means all drone operators must possess the same qualifications, basically, as actual pilots - and demonstrate analogous responsibilities.  (Indeed, this had been considered by the FAA back in 2014, before manufacturer and congressional blowback forced them to back down.) But if the same rigorous standards for operators don't apply, the FAA needs to admit a certain subset of drones are just nuisance toys which can  -on occasion - be shot down or jammed, if they invade citizens' air space, home space for mischievous or malicious purposes..

The problem then inheres in two differing sets of regulations, one vastly more severe, i.e. for formal aircraft:  planes, helicopters etc., the other for drones - which can be literal toys - but threaten commercial air space and personal privacy. It is exactly this bifurcation in rules and practice which poses the problem

Fortunately, as the article goes on to point out there are a "patchwork of state and local laws"  which have come into practice, and evidently trump the  FAA's too soft rules on drones. California, for example, passed a 2015 law prohibiting drones from entering the airspace above someone's land to capture visual images of them.  Other states have laws that prohibit using drones for peeping or spying.  As we learn from one attorney, Lydia Hilton:

"Just because the FAA says a drone operator may access the air space under certain circumstances doesn't give the operator a pass under state laws."

Again, this wouldn't be an issue if only responsible operators were active..  Which could be ensured if the FAA demanded operators take a modified pilot's license test instead of pandering to any and all drone consumers - so the manufacturers can make $$$, huge profits - on the sale of dangerous toys in the wrong hands..

The "lack of clarity" regarding precedents for drone law is also an issue, but I regard it more as a lack of courage. Mainly of the FAA to do its damned job and impose rigorous regulations of drones - like it also should have before certifying Boeing's woeful MAX 8.  Waiting  instead for two horrific crashes and nearly 300 dead to finally ground the jet.  Will it take a drone- aircraft collision before it also wakes up on that score?

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