The Drones are coming!

By: T. Joseph Murphy, Jr.

With the holidays upon us, more people than ever will be receiving the newest drone models as novel and exciting gifts.  The U.S. Department of Transportation expects over 1 million drones to be sold this holiday season.  But what exactly is a drone, you ask?  A drone is an unmanned aircraft commonly referred to as a UAV.  The flight of drones may be controlled either autonomously by onboard computers or by the remote control of a pilot on the ground or in another vehicle.  The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) currently lists three categories of drones: public, civil, and recreational.

Public drones are those owned and operated by government entities.  Civil drones are those owned and operated by private-sector entities.  These types of drones are more heavily regulated by the FAA and require specific certifications.

Generally, the drone you will be unwrapping this time year, and the kind this article will discuss, falls into the recreational category.  The FAA defines recreational drones as UAVs less than 55 pounds.  These drones are available for a wide range of prices based on their capabilities and sophistication.  Drones vary in their flight time, quality of video, size, controllability, and durability among other characteristics.  No matter the drone, new and current drone owners and operators should be aware of the applicable government regulations and safety guidelines.

On October 19th, the FAA and Department of Transportation announced the creation of a task force to develop a registry system for UAVs.  Some of the details of the proposed registration criteria have been leaked and are listed below:

  • UAVs  larger than 9 ounces (250 grams) would have to be registered.  For comparison, a full soda can weighs  approximately 13 ounces.
  • Registration would be retroactive, applicable to old and current owners alike.
  • Drone owners would enter their contact information into an online database creating an account under which multiple drones may be registered.
  • Drone owners would be responsible for marking their drone(s) with the appropriate registration number(s).

Under the proposed registration criteria, almost all present and future drone owners will be required to register with the FAA.  After registration, drone operators will want to operate their drones safely and within regulations or face potential FAA fines.  There are several cases of operators facing fines over $1 million.

In September, the FAA released new guidelines for the use of recreational aircrafts.  A few highlights of the new guidelines are listed below:

  • The  aircraft is flown strictly for hobby or recreational use;
  • The aircraft operates in accordance with a community-based set of safety guidelines and within the programming of a nationwide community-based organization (CBO), such as the Academy of Model      Aeronautics (AMA);
  • The aircraft is limited to not more than 55 pounds, unless otherwise certified through a design, construction, inspection, flight test, and operational safety program administered by a CBO;
  • The aircraft operates in a manner that does not interfere with, and gives way to, any manned aircraft; and
  • When flown within 5 miles of an airport, the operator of the model aircraft provides the airport operator or the airport air traffic control tower (when an air traffic facility is located at the airport) with prior notice of the operation.  Model aircraft  operators flying from a permanent location within 5 miles of an airport  should establish a mutually agreed upon operating procedure with the      airport operator and the airport air traffic control tower (when an air traffic facility is located at the airport).

Other sound advice includes checking local laws and regulations before flying over private property.  Remember to avoid taking photographs or video surveillance of areas where others have an expectation of privacy, like in their homes.  No one appreciates a nosy neighbor.  Avoid flying over obstacles, roadways, and traffic.  Remember to keep the drone in sight at all times to minimize risk of injury or breach of privacy to others.  Most importantly, use your common sense to stay safe while having with your new toy!

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