Why Are Search-and-Rescue Drones Grounded?
Update (22 April 2014): Texas EquuSearch and Gene Robinson filed suit against the FAA yesterday for prohibiting them from flying their search-and-rescue drones.
Gene Robinson of Wimberly, Texas, is a licensed pilot and also flies radio-controlled model airplanes—not an unusual combination. About a decade ago, he realized that a model aircraft outfitted to take aerial photos could be enormously useful in locating people who have gone missing—perhaps because they’ve been abducted or maybe just because they are very young and have wandered off into the woods alone. His efforts have paid valuable dividends over the years—helping find the remains of nearly a dozen people. But since late February his search-and-rescue model airplanes have been grounded: That’s when the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration notified him in writing that what he has been doing is illegal.
Since 2007, the FAA has maintained that model airplanes, no matter how small, cannot be flown for commercial purposes until the agency puts regulations in place to accommodate them. But thousands of people fly radio-controlled (RC) model airplanes as a hobby, and what Robinson has been doing with his 2-kilogram, electrically powered, foam-and-plastic planes is really no different. “This is a double standard we’ve had to deal with for almost seven years,” says Robinson.