Professors object to FAA restrictions on drone use

Published on NewsOK Modified: July 27, 2014 at 10:07 pm •  Published: July 27, 2014
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WASHINGTON (AP) — University and college professors are complaining that government restrictions on the use of small drones are likely to stifle academic research.

In a letter to the Federal Aviation Administration on Friday, 30 professors said a clarification the agency issued last month on what rules model aircraft hobbyists must follow would eliminate the ability of researchers to use small, unmanned aircraft on low-altitude flights over private property.

Model aircraft have increased in sophistication and capability to the point that they are virtually indistinguishable from small drones. And the price of unmanned aircraft has been dropping, making them more affordable for researchers and other users.

The FAA allows hobbyists to use model aircraft or small drones so long as they keep them away from airports, fly them under 400 feet and keep the aircraft within sight of the remote-controlling operator at all times. However, commercial operators or people working for private colleges or universities are prohibited from using the same aircraft under FAA's clarification of its policies, said Paul Voss, an associate professor of engineering at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, who spearheaded the letter.

"Under the FAA model aircraft rules, a 10-year-old hobbyist can freely fly model aircraft for recreation, while our nation's scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs are prohibited from using the same technology in the same types of environments," the letter said.

The FAA has a process for academic researchers to obtain special authorization to use drones, but only if they are affiliated with public colleges or universities, not private schools like Smith. Researchers from Harvard and Stanford universities, both private schools, also signed the letter. But so did researchers from large public universities like the University of Michigan and the University of Wisconsin.

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