The FAA has taken its serious stance on drones to new heights, approving a permit for a paper airplane to fly in commercial airspace. The authority granted a Section 333 exemption (which allows unmanned aerial systems “to operate safely in the national airspace system” ) to the smartphone-controlled PowerUp 3.0 paper airplane. The petition for exemption was filed by Peter Sachs, a lawyer and commercial helicopter pilot who has previously advocated for the commercial use of drones.
In a twist to the ridiculous tale, Sachs will not be able to operate his paper airplane despite the FAA granting the exemption, as he does not have a current pilot’s license. To get this license, he would have to spend thousands of dollars. He would also need to have an observer at all times, and could only operate his “plane” during the day and in good weather conditions. He would have to file a notice with air traffic control 24-72 hours before any flight. That’s right, all this to fly a paper airplane.
Sachs told Forbes that while he is happy to have had his petition granted, he thinks that the FAA “has abandoned all logic and sensibility by declaring that a 19-gram paper airplane is legally an aircraft.” Although safety concerns are legitimate — there have been several near-misses with drones in airspace — this incident shows that these concerns are being overblown, resulting in red tape and pointless regulations. The paper plane in this case can fly to a maximum of 180 feet, while helicopters and planes both fly much higher. Remote controlled airplanes have been flown since 1898 without being classified as airplanes. The FAA has promised to bring in new regulations in 2016. It can’t come soon enough for drone advocates — and children who want a remote controlled plane for Christmas.
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