In the March 27, 2012’s edition of the Los Angeles Times, John Villasenor, UCLA professor, contributed an Op-Ed piece with the suggestion that drone proliferation raises an issue that has received too little attention: the threat that they could be used to carry out terrorist attacks.
AMA President, Bob Brown, immediately replied to the piece with the following message:
I read with interest the March 26 op-ed piece written by John Villasenor concerning the operation of drones, and more specifically, model airplanes in the United States. Professor Villasenor’s remarks are concerning on many levels, and I felt compelled to respond. As president of the Academy of Model Aeronautics, representing 143,000 model aviation enthusiasts across the country, I would like to offer an alternative viewpoint to the professor’s position on recreational model aviation.
It appears that the professor’s approach is to take a sledgehammer to a nonexistent problem. Model aviation has existed in this country longer than manned flight itself. The Academy of Model Aeronautics has represented modelers for more than 75 years. Our safety programming, which our members operate within and self-police, has resulted in aeromodelers being one of the safest, if not the safest, group of all that use the National Airspace System.
Congress clearly recognized this when it included an amendment to the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 in February. Congress wisely saw little need to create unnecessary government regulations for a recreational activity enjoyed safely by so many Americans. In fact, the FAA feels the same way. In a recent interview, John McGraw, FAA Flight Standards Deputy Director, said, “The modeling community has been very good at coming up with standards that allow them to operate safely; they have a good record and they believe they have done a good job of that and we agree.”
Professor Villasenor believes that model airplanes need to be regulated and their operators licensed by government because they “might be a terrorist threat.” Frankly, a car, a boat, or even an individual walking down the street might be a terrorist threat. We do agree with the professor that a licensing program wouldn’t eliminate the threat of drone terrorism. However, we disagree that there is a need to further regulate a recognized and safe recreational and educational activity simply because some nefarious individual may have bad intentions and, on a remote chance, might use a model airplane to carry out that intent. That thought process makes no sense.
Model aviation has been a stepping stone to careers in the fields of aviation and aerospace for thousands of this country’s young people. Many of our most notable aviation luminaries had their interest in aviation sparked by model airplanes. The average age of an aerospace engineer today is 53. During the Apollo Space Program in the 1970s the average age of those engineers was 28. At a time when the United States so desperately needs to create a pipeline that will fill the need for the next generation of engineers and aviators, let’s not place onerous and unnecessary government restrictions on the one activity that can easily help fill that void. The United States has never subscribed to this way of thinking. Let’s not start now.
To read the Op-Ed Bob Brown is responding to please visit the Los Angeles Time’s Website.