Gyrocopter Capitol Landing – FAA Rules Too Lenient… Or Too Strict?

The gyrocopter that postal worker Doug Hughes landed yesterday on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol was most likely purchased as a kit. For the DIYers out there, the gyrocopter can be purchased for about $10,000. It comes in a box and you can put it together – most of it anyway – in your garage. The gyrocopter is a much more affordable option than helicopters, which start out at around $100 grand.

To legally fly a gyrocopter, the requirements are pretty simple. You put it together, put in a mere 20 hours of training, register it with the FAA (the Federal Aviation Administration) and you’re home free.

Unless, of course, you land the gyrocopter on the West Lawn of the United States Capitol like Doug Hughes did.

Hughes, 61, had planned his gyrocopter stunt for over a decade. He planned to execute his finance reform protest in sync with the start of Bensen Days, which is a three-day “fly-in” in Wauchula, Florida. (Probably not coincidentally, Igor Bensen, for which the fly-in is named, invented the minimalist type of gyrocopter that Hughes piloted.)

Hughes had to plan his approach to the Capitol in Washington D.C. extremely carefully, so that after his takeoff from Gettysburg Regional Airport, he had enough gas in his gyrocopter to actually reach the Capitol. It was a harrowing trip, to be sure – not to mention that he probably worried about being shot down by the military.

Gyrocopters, which have been around since the 1920’s are popular because they are so cheap, but they’re also dangerous. Most of them only have one seat, which means you don’t have a trainer sitting behind you teaching you what to do. Despite the training, flying a gyrocopter is a trial and error process, and a mistake can have serious consequences.

So now that Doug Hughes has proved it can be done, what will the blowback be? Gyrocopters will likely get more popular. Anyone with an inkling – sinister or otherwise – will probably at least look into the possibility of owning a gyrocopter. So, are the FAA regulations regarding gyrocopters too lenient?

Stephen Paffet, a treasurer for the British Rotorcraft Association (and avid gyrocopter pilot) told The Washington Post that the stunt that Hughes pulled off in the States could never have happened in England.

“You guys in the States are quite lucky. Rules are much freer over there. You can just go and build one and get the FAA approval and have almost a bedstead with a rotor on top. It can be something very crude, as long as it meets a certain criteria.”

Paffet said that that’s not the case in Britain.

“Do-it-yourself aircraft are very heavily regulated in the U.K. They are very, very stringent on people doing things themselves. Whereas in the in the States you are very, very free to get on and do 90 percent of it yourself. In one sense, that’s good news because people can still develop things. In this country, the aviation industry is choking us.”

However, when it comes to aviation, another neighbor to our north says that the FAA is far too strict when it comes to aviation.

Recently, online retailer Amazon has been attempting to test its drone delivery system, whereby remote-controlled drones would deliver packages to the front porches, driveways and yards of its customers, all from the air.

When Amazon applied with the FAA for permission to test their drone delivery system, the agency was at first dismissive. When they realized the retailer was serious, Amazon was told the application would move through a months- if not years-long process that would most likely result in denial. Amazon took its test program north, to Canada.

The FAA equivalent in Canada, the Transport Canada Civil Aviation Authority (TCCA), has allowed commercial drone use in its country for over a decade. When Amazon approached the TCCA, the Canadian agency responded affirmatively.

According to Transport Canada, Amazon has been given a license to test their drone delivery system for one year. In that time, the company has restrictions over how close to people, businesses and property the drones can get, their maximum altitude that they can fly and what sort of guidelines they have to follow to coordinate their tests with air traffic services.

That seems pretty straightforward.

The question posed in light of Doug Hughes’ gyrocopter landing at the Capitol, is the FAA too lenient when it comes to aviation regulations, or are they too strict, as in the case of Amazon’s drone test flights?

Is it a black and white issue, or a common sense one? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.

[Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.]