FAA Petitioned to File Environmental Impact Statement for Drones
Amazon Reported to be Selling 10,000 Drones per Month
January 30, 2015 / MEDIA RELEASE
Green Vegans, a Seattle-based human ecology organization, has petitioned the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to implement the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) before it finalizes policy and regulations that would apply to commercial drones under the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 (the Act), in addition to “model” drones used by hobbyists. “Clearly,” said Will Anderson, president of Green Vegans, “the benefits as well as the environmental and social impacts from drones are enormous. The FAA must comply with NEPA on this major action by the federal government that covers what will soon be millions of drones, most of which at not going to be regulated by the Act.”
On Wednesday, President Obama, relating to the model drone that crashed on the White House lawn over the weekend stated, “We don’t really have any kind of regulatory structure at all for it.” The White House Council on Environmental Quality was given a copy of the petition.
Total Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), as drones are called by the FAA, will approach ~250,000 by 2035, of which ~175,000 will be in the commercial marketplace.” Significant is the fact that these figures do not include the far larger number of users in the model/hobby UAS category.
In the Act, Congress directed the FAA to implement comprehensive regulatory integration of UASs for civil (commercial) and public (government agencies and first responders) classes of drones by 30 September 2015. Subtitle B: Unmanned Aircraft Systems (Sec. 336) of the Act “Prohibits the FAA Administrator from promulgating rules or regulations on model aircraft flown strictly for hobby or recreational purposes and meeting certain other criteria.” Nowhere, Green Vegans noted to the FAA, does the agency concern itself with the cumulative environmental impacts on both the human environment and wildlife, endangered and not endangered.
“Green Vegans is stating the obvious. The FAA must take all classes of drones into account for limiting the cumulative environmental and social impacts,” said Anderson. Complying with NEPA would require and generate needed studies and public participation before the FAA completes its policy and regulatory positions. Imagine what would happen if we let millions upon millions of drones fill the sky without first studying the impacts on wildlife—endangered and non-endangered—as well as our privacy, property rights, and rights to a peaceful environment. ” he added.
Remarkably, the current policy and regulatory reforms proposed by the FAA could leave intact Advisory Circular (AC) 91-57, Model Aircraft Operating Standards. Its guidelines pertain to model/hobbyist drones despite it being established in 1981, thirty-four years ago when hobbyist drones were not the issue and technology they are today.
A Chicago Tribune story reported that Amazon is selling ten thousand drones every month. Model drone hobbyists do not need FAA approval but they are encouraged to follow safety guidelines. Hobbyists are allowed to fly their drones into nearly every terrestrial and atmospheric habitat from grass top level to under four hundred feet only with restricted airspace rules near airports, security zones, and loose recommendations for public safety.
For the first time, wildlife and people will be subject to a cumulatively increasing number of noisy, unnatural UAS aircraft intruding into their ecosystems and proximal space with the FAA’s allowance. Missing from the FAA process to-date is the critical public and scientific involvement and information that NEPA is uniquely designed to provide.
In the public arena, privacy and fear of government overreach is the constant undercurrent (social impacts; environmental justice) that an environmental impact statement would address. “We need environmental justice for all species,” said Anderson.