Food for Thought: How Drones and Time-Lapse Photography can Reduce Aviation Impacts

Here are a few short videos that show the power of time-lapse photography. Combine this with the close-up agility of drone photography and, well, there’d hardly be a need for manned aerial photography or air tourism. On top of all that, the safety record would improve dramatically; people would not be put at risk paying for rides with profit-driven aviation companies, with a long track record of cutting corners.

Imagine that: experiencing the Grand Canyon or lower Manhattan and NOT hearing a helicopter? Wow!!

PANO | LA – 10K from SCIENTIFANTASTIC on Vimeo.

What Is an Example of an Appropriate TFR for a ‘Hazard’?

Recent news stories have chilled those of us who care about good governance, Democracy, and the critical need for a free Press. We have learned that, yet again, FAA is abusing its authority, imposing flight restrictions to shut down the Press, so they cannot obtain valuable imagery at the major environmental protest happening in eastern North Dakota. (click here to view a copy of the Cannonball, ND DAPL TFR

Readers may wonder about these TFR’s (Temporary Flight Restrictions): what are they, and what would be an appropriate TFR imposed by FAA?

Here’s an example, and not very far from North Dakota. One clearly appropriate TFR would be to protect aircraft from being hit by rocks during a large-scale surface blasting operation.20161205scp-mine-blasting-tfr-fdc-notam-6-5664-hibbing-taconite-mine-in-mn-for-20161207

Hibbing Taconite operates a massive strip mine in the Mesabi Range of Minnesota. They have operated the Hull–Rust–Mahoning Open Pit Iron Mine north of Hibbing since 1976, and online mining production data (which oddly ends in the early 1990s) shows that they shipped an average 8 million metric tons of taconite pellets during the timeframe 1987-1993. The Wikipedia page on ‘Mesabi Range’ says this is one of the world’s largest open pit iron ore mines.

An analysis of satellite imagery reveals that the mining process (documented in a series of screen captured satellite images in this scrollable PDF) is as follows:

  1. remove the vegetation and soil overburden (averaging 5 meters depth).
  2. set and detonate an array of charges over the area to be extracted.
  3. load the blasted ore layer into massive dump trucks and haul it to the processing plant, where the ore is separated/cleaned. The ore is shipped for steel production; the byproduct (water, soil, and other materials) is flowed into a tailings pond, where the sediments settle out.
  4. when the supply of extractable ore begins to run out, repeat the process, blasting a new extraction area.

The latest blast area is within the eastern part of the pit, and is the subject of the TFR on 12/7/2016. During a one hour window, FAA is excluding flights, from using airspace within a 2-mile radius of the blast, at altitudes below approximately 2,500-ft above ground level. A temporary flight restriction seems quite appropriate, as there is a real hazard.

Contrast this with the DAPL protest near Cannonball, ND. There, FAA has AGAIN abused its authority to impose flight restrictions aimed NOT at safety, but at hampering the Press. This, clearly, is wrong.

Aerial Imagery: Water Cannons Aimed at People, in the North Dakota Cold

This drone video says it all. This is why FAA should NOT be abusing it’s ‘aviation safety’ authority to impede journalism:

Let’s be very clear. Imposing a TFR does nothing to assure ‘aviation safety’. Rather, it aims solely to ensure the public is left ignorant about the harsh and shameful reality of what the state and federal government are failing to stop, near Cannonball, ND.

The only hazards at this location are being intentionally and arbitrarily created by security forces, some privately hired and some on the public payroll. What these men and women are doing is disgusting (and, my guess, most of them were cute little boys loved by moms, long, long ago). They are abusing their authorities while knowingly and needlessly endangering citizens with a legitimate protest. Disgusting.


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FAA Again Caught Undermining The Peoples’ Access to News & Data

20161122-dapl-water-cannon-at-night-image

Water cannons at night, in North Dakota. Late November 2016. This is ‘the land of the free and the home of the brave’?

A major news story has been largely ignored by the mainstream media: the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) protest in North Dakota. Nonetheless, stories and images are leaking to the world, and embarrassing our nation, not just for the excessively militarized brute force being used, but for the silent complicity of higher officials, all the way to the White House.

Lacking media coverage, people get creative to cover the story themselves, and drones are a very safe and efficient way to capture images, to share the story with the rest of the world. The response by local law enforcement has included shooting down the drones, which itself creates a substantial hazard to the protestors below. So, after a lot of delay, FAA over-asserts their authority to impose airspace restrictions.

Former NTSB member John Goglia offers some excellent inquiry with a recent Forbes news article (PDF copy below):

Click on the image below for a scrollable view; the PDF file may be downloaded.

Goglia looks closely at a recent blogpost by Peter Sachs, at DroneLawJournal. He notes FAA was caught shutting down journalism two years ago, after Michael Brown was shot and killed on a Sunday by a cop in Ferguson, MO. But, there was yet another example in recent years, though slightly different, also under current FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. mayflower-spill-pic-replace-deadlinkRemember when another pipeline BURST and flooded the neighborhood streets of Mayflower, AR, and then proceeded to pollute a nearby fishing lake? Yup, same routine there, too. In April 2013, FAA not only issued airspace closures, but they actually had the audacity to delegate authority for that airspace to a pipeline employee! Here are links to three aiREFORM Posts:

FAA is grandiose (and dismissive to the rest of the world) when they declare they are all about safety and efficiency. That’s utter bullshit. Safety is taken care of by operators and manufacturers who, if they ignored safety, would get slaughtered by the legal system. And, efficiency is similarly an objective clearly in the best interest of operators to achieve. So, when you get down to the core of it, FAA’s TRUE ROLE has become nothing more than parasitism: they feed off the money that flows into aviation (hence, the aviation customers, we the people, are their parasitic host) so as to prop up FAA’s programs and the eventual pensions of those FAA employees.

When they stand in the way of a fundamental right, such as journalism covering a major news story, FAA serves corporate and ruling oligarchic interests, not we the people. A shrewd President would never allow this, and would demand the immediate retirement of an FAA Administrator with the pattern we see here: first Mayflower, then Ferguson, and now DAPL. This is not acceptable.

Photography Drones: A Force for Transparency, Accountability & Democracy

Find me just one person in this nation who is not sick of this election and we will agree: this is a deceased person – who’s name is probably connected to at least one fraudulent ballot.

Downward we have dropped.

Not all is bad. Indeed, we have technologies now that can ensure transparency and accountability in our future, both so critically needed if we are to function democratically and have a just and thriving nation. Here is an example — recent footage by a citizen using a drone, flying over the construction site at the Dakota Access Pipeline, and showing that, despite newsworthy decrees by our President, the pipe lays on and further threatens  water supplies. Yes, ‘the corporation’ does as it wants, while insulating bankers and others from legal process and accountability:


These really are amazing little machines. Nobody gets hurt, because they are so small… they are literally evolved from kids’ toys. They are not intrusive; they do not burn leaded aviation fuel, nor do they create stressful noise levels as would previously happen shooting this imagery from a small plane or helicopter. And, they are incredibly maneuverable, thus can capture amazing views at low levels and in tightly confined spaces, something never possible using piloted aircraft.

20161107meme-properly-attentive-to-traditions-dapl-horse-v-militarization

Will history show we are ‘properly attentive’ to the WRONG traditions, serving money alone?

So, there is much good to be found with small photography drones, yet where are we going with these little devices, and how are drones being steered politically? Well, FAA has muddled the rules for drone use so badly that, if their illogic is taken one small step further, we will have to send in shock troops and arrest kids who launch paper airplanes or send up kites. The courts and the quasi-courts (i.e., the administrative trial venues that pretend to offer judicial services for bureaucracies) have attacked dozens of citizens who created videos or shot gorgeous real estate pictures … all with absolutely nobody getting hurt or even frightened. In the meantime, dozens more have died in manned aircraft accidents doing the same sort of work: low level aerial photography and surveillance.

FAA could encourage drones and thus eliminate lots of intrusive tourist flying (e.g., urban air tours around Chicago or New York City, over Grand Canyon, etc.), and eliminate the use of noisy low airplanes to give traffic reports. A lot of good could happen, if FAA let drones serve what people need and want, but instead FAA appears to be serving a bipartisan trend in our government, toward aiding corporations to use new technologies, while ensuring no simple citizen can do the same.

** FILE ** Beef cattle roam the Harris Ranch farms Friday, Jan. 25, 2008 in Coalinga, Calif. Higher food inflation would further challenge shoppers who are already limiting themselves to sale items and store brands as they contend with the worst food inflation since 1990. (AP Photo/Gary Kazanjian, file)

Cattle in a feedlot near Coalinga, California, at the gates of the ‘Disassembly Line’. (AP Photo/Gary Kazanjian, file)

And, in some states, laws have been passed making it illegal to shoot photographs of feedlots and other agricultural facilities; i.e., the ‘reporter’ gets arrested for trying to document what needs to be reported.

So, in just a couple more days, the damage will have been done. We will have chosen the path to bedlam that will enable a further widening of our wealth gap, and further erosion of aviation restrictions and other environmental/health laws. Our participation in this national game, rigged as it appears to be, will further expand the egos and deplorable legacies of an elite few political animals – evident subhumans (or superhumans?) who have already demonstrated, their ethics are so thin, their values and leadership are absent, and their daily routine is so entirely self-serving, … well, we get what they let us vote for!


See also:
  • Article at EcoWatch (source for video, posted by Steve Horn at DeSmogBlog)

A Drone Video of Cherry Blossoms, at the UW Campus in Seattle

Image

(click on image to view the 2-minute drone video, shot in March 2016)

Two Washingtons: East and West.

In the West, where Bernie Sanders beats Hillary Clinton 73-27 in the democratic primary caucus, a photo of the cherry blossoms wins top prize in a springtime photo contest. The accompanying drone video inspires, as does the progressive candidate seeking real political change.

In the East, in Washington, DC, cherry blossoms generate warnings from FAA to not use drones to shoot pictures. Meanwhile, FAA expends no effort cleaning up the mess they have made, imposing NextGen procedures that grow airline profits by discarding decades-old noise abatement procedures, impacting entire new neighborhoods. No inspiration; no progress; same old downward spiral.

FAA’s Drone Registry is Clearly Excessive … Yet Ineffective and Serves No Valid Purpose

Heritage Foundation has posted an excellent article that gets past the spin/hype/distortion that FAA has deployed in their recently imposed ‘Drone Registry’. A strong case exists to show that FAA’s real intent is simply to ‘look busy’, as they very publicly impose regulations upon flying toys made of foam and typically weighing far less than your average duck. Notably, too, during the six decades before the registry was started in December, FAA had consciously chosen to let model aircraft operators ‘self-regulate’ … even with much heavier and far more dangerous powered model aircraft (in fact, there was even a history of model airplane accidents with injuries and even fatalities).

The article, Purposeless Regulation: The FAA Drone Registry, was written by Jason Snead and John-Michael Seibler. Here is a copy:

This pop-out view is scrollable, and the PDF copy may be downloaded.

Due to its clear arbitrariness, this major FAA policy shift is at the core of a lawsuit, Taylor v. FAA, filed on 12/24/2015. Mr. Taylor argues that FAA violated Congress’ UAS guidance in the last FAA Authorization … the same horrible legislation which FAA used to justify NextGen impacts without environmental review (see the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, 2/14/2012).


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Another Example of FAA Misdirecting Its Abundant Resources

(click on image to view original article at AOPA.org)

(click on image to view original article at AOPA.org)

In early 2012, within the same congressional legislation that enabled FAA to impose impactful NextGen routes without meaningful environmental review, FAA was directed to accelerate ‘integration of unmanned aerial vehicles’ into the National Airspace System. Deadlines were set, and FAA has consistently failed these deadlines, but FAA did eventually get around to creating some rules. FAA also created an exemption process, enabling so-called ‘commercial operators’ to proceed without compliance to the new rules.

FAA has since granted more than a thousand exemptions (searchable list of 1,451 exemption entries, with links to PDF copies). Each exemption has required dozens of hours of work on both ends of the process: the applicant (or their well-paid attorney) has to create typically 20-50 pages of documentation, and FAA lawyers and others then spend dozens of hours reviewing the application and drafting a ‘decision’ filled with boilerplate that typically runs 8-10 pages long. Generally, the exemptions require flight no higher than 400-feet above ground level, and the operator must have earned a costly FAA pilot certification. In many cases, FAA has also submitted the exemption applications for publication in the Federal Register, in accordance with the NPRM rulemaking process.

One of the latest FAA exemption approvals goes to Peter Sachs, a Connecticut attorney developing a specialty in unmanned flight. Here, he was granted approval to fly a paper airplane with a tiny propeller … so long as he uses an FAA-licensed pilot to perform the flight and flies low to the ground. Just a paper airplane, which clearly could have no significant impact on any real aircraft.

Perhaps a more intelligent FAA rule (and one that would provide lots of relief from aviation noise) would be to mandate all manned aircraft minimize flight time below say 2,500-feet above ground level (AGL), and do all level cruising flights at no less than 2,500-feet AGL.

For the record, FAA’s current helicopter rules essentially allow helicopter pilots to cruise right at ground level, and fixed-wing planes are legal at just 500-feet above ‘uncongested’ terrain and 1,000-feet above ‘congested terrain’ (whatever those terms mean). Furthermore, the rules promulgated by FAA at FAR 91.119 are loaded with loopholes that render them entirely unenforceable; for example, ANY pilot can justify low flying, simply by claiming he or she needed to be at that altitude to transition to or from their cruising altitude.

It seems rather incredible that this much busywork should go into creating rules, yet the rules are so arbitrary that the agency quickly grants rule exemptions to well over a thousand applicants. And all of this fuss over objects (radio-control models, and even paper airplanes now!) that just four years ago were considered ‘recreational’. One has to question just how intelligent a rule is, when thousands of exemptions are promptly issued. Imagine if our state DMV’s arbitrarily issued 30mph maximum speed limits for our cars, then granted tens of thousands of waivers, each accompanied with a tiny decal to go onto our cars. Yes, it would be absurd and expensive, but it sure would keep lots of state DMV employees busy.

The same appears to be the case at FAA. Wouldn’t it be nice if FAA redirected their personnel resources, aiming them instead at…

  • … resolving noise issues,
  • … reducing GA accident rates,
  • … improving helicopter fuel tank ruptures (and other serious airworthiness problems), and
  • … correcting the employee fatigue issues that continue to haunt pilots and controllers?

FAA could do so much more, if it chose to serve the People, not just the industry players.

Dodging Accountability: those ‘Un-Readable’ registration markings on GA aircraft

While there are two ‘A’s’ in ‘FAA’, we can all rest assured that neither ‘A’ stands for ‘ACCOUNTABILITY’. This we know from the news which, on a nearly daily basis, shows a corrupt and scandal-riddled work culture, where officials are ever careful to not let their personal name be attached to their professional actions and inactions. The recent coverage of the ATC recruitment scandal is one example; FAA’s decades-old habit of excessively redacting names of all FAA officials in FOIA responses is another example; and a third example is illuminated in the excellent series of articles from last summer, by Mario Diaz at PIX11.

FAA’s culture of unaccountability goes further. It not only protects those employed by the agency, but it also insulates rogue pilots and others whom the agency is supposed to be regulating, to protect them from accountability, too. Thus, incidents like the 2012 helicopter harassment against an advocate for regulation of skydiving noise in Longmont, CO are effectively enabled by a dysfunctional FAA. Essentially, a rogue pilot can do whatever he wants, and he’ll get away with it so long as he can rely of FAA to not enforce.

Required Aircraft Registration Markings

One clear area of FAA failure has to do with the requirements to mark all aircraft with legible registration numbers. The two principal ways that accountability is dodged with these GA aircraft markings are:

  1. FAA’s rules allow for incredibly tiny letters; and
  2. Even when an aircraft is identified, FAA is habitually lax about enforcement against aviators (click here for the FreeRangeLongmont version of the 2012 harassment incident… and be sure to click through to see the supporting documentation!)

We are all quite familiar with the license plates placed on the rear (and in many states on the front, too) of all registered trucks and automobiles. The purpose is to ensure drivers are accountable for their driving behavior. Identifying marks, legible from a reasonable distance, were intended to enable citizens and/or law enforcement officials to establish the registered owner (and hopefully the actually driver) after an accident or after any illegal driving actions.20150804cpy.. CA license plate sample, 65mm font, 'OutaTime'

The standard in the U.S., adopted in 1956, calls for plates that are 6″ by 12″. Typically, these have letters that are 2.5-inches (65mm) tall. A 1960 engineering study by the University of Illinois recommended adoption of a numbering system and plate design “…composed of combinations of characters which can be perceived quickly and accurately, are legible at a distance of approximately 125 feet (38 m) under daylight conditions, and are readily adapted to filing and administrative procedures.” The study also concluded that plates need to be readable from at least 125-feet away, and that a 14″ plate width (not just 12″ wide)would improve legibility, by ensuring letters are not excessively thin or mashed together.

The same logic is also supposed to apply to aircraft. However, states, local jurisdictions and Courts all defer to FAA as the final authority in charge of aviation safety. As such, it fell upon FAA to establish regulations for the proper marking of aircraft, to ensure they are identifiable, and to ensure the operators are accountable.

So, what did FAA do? They crafted a set of rules that virtually guarantee that any unsafe pilot or excessively noisy aircraft will be unidentifiable. And, even when they are identified, FAA tends not to enforce the rules, anyway.

The bulk of ‘General Aviation’ includes personal aircraft, many of which are kit-built by the owner/pilot. The vast majority of all small GA aircraft require 2″ tall registration letters; only a small number of GA require larger letters, either 3″ or 12″ tall. Think about that. Given that highway engineers opted for 2.5″ tall letters to be properly legible at 125-feet on our roadways, logically the minimum height to read the registration number of an aircraft at least 1,000-feet above the ground should be eight-times 2.5″, thus 20″ tall. Yet, the only small aircraft required to be marked with the full 12″ letters are those factory-built fixed-wing types after 1982 (and rotorcraft after 1983), and those kit-built models that cruise at speeds in excess of 180 knots. According to FAA’s rules, somebody flying an early 1970’s Learjet or Citationjet is legal, so long as they show 2″ tall letters on the sides of their engines. So, is it any wonder that drug-runners have become partial to using older small airplanes to move their product around?

An Example of Non-Enforcement

Here’s an example: a 1984 Cessna Turbo Stationair said to be based in Ohio, for which a custom paint-job was done. Nice looking plane, and plenty of power to get to remote lakes when outfitted in floats. But, take a look at the registration numbers. A licensed professional aircraft painter did this job, then advertised their good craftsmanship online, and the FAA officials simply looked the other way. The same FAA that jumps on hobbyists who use 6-pound quadcopters flown maybe 100- or 200-feet above the ground to shoot real estate aerial photos nowhere near any airports, and with zero risk of impacting regular aviation … that same FAA pays no mind to the fact that FAA-licensed pilots and the FAA-certified professionals who service their FAA-registered aircraft are routinely ignoring numerous FAA’s regulations, such as the need to have legible letters with a contrasting background.20150803scp.. C206 with camouflaged aircraft numbersN235HM earlier pic from web, marked SEP-2006

And to the right is an earlier photo, prior to the custom paint-job. Both paint jobs do a wonderful job of camouflaging the aircraft callsign. And had this aircraft been built just two years earlier, in 1982, that camouflage would surround letters only 2-inches tall!

For the record, FAA’s regulations on marking aircraft are contained at Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) at Chapter I, Subchapter C, Part 45, Subpart C. The specific language in 14 CFR at Section 45.21(c) includes: “…Aircraft nationality and registration marks must … have no ornamentation, … contrast in color with the background, … and be legible.” So, if this floatplane were to buzz a group of people on the water – even if by accident – chances are that, despite FAA’s regulations, the impacted people would not be able to identify the aircraft or pilot. In the best-case scenario, a decent pilot would never learn of his carelessness, would fail to sharpen his skills, and would continue a bad and unsafe habit. In the worst-case scenario, a rogue pilot would ‘get away with it’ – and feel further empowered – all the more likely to repeat use of his aircraft to endanger and harass people.

It’s Even Worse for Helicopters

Read this quote carefully, as this is FAA’s binding regulation for rotorcraft markings, copied from 14 CFR 45.29(b)(3): “(the markings) …must be at least 12 inches high, except that rotorcraft displaying before April 18, 1983, marks required by § 45.29(b)(3) in effect on April 17, 1983, and rotorcraft manufactured on or after April 18, 1983, but before December 31, 1983, may display those marks until the aircraft is repainted or the marks are repainted, restored, or changed.” The underline is added to emphasize, in essence, for all helicopters built prior to 1984, the owner must increase the numbers from 2″ tall to 12″ tall ONLY IF the owner chooses to ‘repaint, restore or change’ the numbers. It is as if regulators (and Congress?) wanted to carefully avoid upsetting operators in the pipeline, soon to take delivery of their new helicopter (why should they be burdened with a rule that makes their helicopter potentially identifiable?). Absurd, and yet so typical of the ambiguous mish-mash built into so many FAA regulations.

 

FAA Still Failing on Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS)

“What are they smoking at the FAA???
“When is the FAA (and their indifferent parent, the DOT) going to fire their current crop of idiot regs-makers, and replace them with sober, competent, responsible adults?”

The above are valid questions, raised by a commenter in an online article at AW&ST’s AviationDaily, FAA Urged To Act Fast On Final Small-UAS Rule. The article and the comments are well worth reading.

FAA is way behind schedule, but they are also failing to address the real issues. In fact, for the smaller and wildly popular hobby drones, the key issue is less about safety (since even small manned aircraft should not be flying so low to the ground), but more about the invasion of personal privacy. FAA is proceeding through a formal rulemaking process (NPRM) right now, and hearing these concerns from citizens. Here is a portion of a citizen comment that focuses on personal privacy and the use of drones to monitor and arrest people, as submitted to the NPRM (by Christopher Booth, in Concord, NH):

“Addressing the issue of privacy is paramount. You can operate a UAV for private use, but can not obtain imagery which would violate any person’s expectation of privacy, and no imagery or information may be obtained for public use without regard for the requirement that a warrant must be obtained before such collection if it is going to be admissible in any court proceeding or may be used for the purpose of obtaining the arrest of any person. In other words you can not randomly fly a UAV over a city looking for someone to arrest, or to observe whether anyone is obeying or disobeying any law. You have to get a warrant for that, and it has to have probable cause that the person should be arrested, and must specify where you can look for them and who you are looking for to obtain that warrant – from a judge in open court, in the presence of a public defender arguing why the warrant should not be issued.”

Everyone would be better served if FAA simply punted. Perhaps FAA should relinquish regulatory authority for low altitude (?below 500-feet AGL and clear of all actual airport traffic patterns?) and light-weight (?under ten pounds?) drone uses?

Also, FAA could reduce noise impacts by helicopters AND increase safety margins, if they would simultaneously tighten the FAR 91.119 ‘Minimum Safe Altitude’ flight restrictions. It would be a ‘win-win’ if FAA would require that all manned aircraft (fixed wing and helicopters) cruise at altitudes at least 2,000-feet AGL, and transition to/from these cruise altitudes within reasonable short distances of takeoff/landing locations. Skies would be quieter AND safer.


See also: