The FAA is once again rolling over for the security-industrial complex, this time agreeing to enact without public comment new rules restricting drone flights near the Statue of Liberty, Mount Rushmore and other national landmarks. The new rules take effect October 5, whether or not they make sense.
There are two major problems with these new rules.
First, how does restricting drone flying up to 400 feet within the lateral boundaries of 10 landmark sites prevent a bad actor from committing mayhem with a drone?
Of course I understand that these sites attract a lot of tourists, but so do many other places that have no overt airspace protection. Why shouldn’t they get the same protection? And what makes these sites so especially in need of protection compared to say, Six Flags amusement parks, which have no protection from any aerial objects (unlike Disney World and Disneyland, which have their own special protected airspace)?
Second, the stated purpose of enacting these restrictions has little or nothing to do with protecting these particular landmarks but more to do with a general fear of drone attacks and that the government currently has no mechanism for disrupting these attacks. During a “Threats to the Homeland,” hearing on September 27 before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, FBI Director Christopher Wray said, “We do know that terrorist organizations have an interest in using drones; we’ve seen that overseas already with some growing frequency, and the expectation is it’s coming here imminently. I think they are relatively easy to acquire, relatively easy to operate and quite difficult to disrupt and monitor.”
That, I agree is true, and I don’t know how we should deal with the problem. But once again, this is an example of the FAA caving in to so-called security experts by enacting sweeping restrictions that have no way of preventing the proscribed activity.
Wray might as well have said, “We do know that terrorist organizations have an interest in using trucks; we’ve seen that overseas already with some growing frequency, and the expectation is it’s coming here imminently.”
Guess what, that last part, even though he didn’t say it, is true. And where are the restrictions on trucks around national landmarks? Any person can still rent the type of truck that was used in an actual domestic terrorist attack (in Oklahoma City, by an American citizen) without extra scrutiny or special restrictions. Why are drones so different?
The FAA’s actions, at the behest of the security industry, are yet another example of the ongoing attempt to persuade the general public that the government is doing something about the hypothetical imminent threat of terrorist attacks via drone.
Will these new restrictions have any effect? Of course not. Terrorists don’t abide by our rules, whether or not the rules make any sense. That’s the nature of terroristic activities. Does the government seriously think that a terrorist is going to say, “Oh, gee, I better not attack the Statue of Liberty because of the new FAA rules.”
That’s kind of ridiculous, and so are these new rules. If we’re going to spend money on security, let’s do so in ways that make sense, not on more layers of useless theatrical frippery.