There has been an alarming increase in the number of drone/aircraft near strike incidents as reported in the news recently. (Personal drones – not those that can take out an entire village.)
The direct correlation to these near-misses by drones and planes is to that of drone availability and usage by private corporate entities (from cargo trackers to commercial real estate developers), publication photographers, the private sector for personal pleasure use and certainly in our field, that of investigations.
Further increasing their popularity, the price of a decent drone is very attractive: $1,368 for this Phantom (one of the top devices for personal/business use):
So where are we with the regulation of personal/corporate drones re: permissible use according to the governing regulatory agency, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Read for yourself : From thenextweb.com (July 1, 2014):
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is in charge of overseeing airspace in the US and the guidance for non-commercial users. With the increasing realization for the potential of drones, it’s already looking closely at how – and when – they should be permitted for use by businesses (or individuals for commercial activity) in the US. All model aircraft use for business or commercial use in the US is already subject to FAA regulation.
However, if you’re hoping that Amazon’s delivery drones are just around the corner, you’ll be disappointed. The FAA ruled recently that drone use for business purposes will remain banned for the immediate future, but that hobbyist use is still OK for now, providing you follow a few rules.
Specifically, the drone must be kept in your line of sight and clearly observable from your position on the ground, along with a few less-specifically definedpieces of guidance which are more applicable to model aircraft:
“Users are advised to avoid noise sensitive areas such as parks, schools, hospitals, and churches. Hobbyists are advised not to fly in the vicinity of spectators until they are confident that the model aircraft has been flight tested and proven airworthy.
Model aircraft should be flown below 400 feet above the surface to avoid other aircraft in flight. The FAA expects that hobbyists will operate these recreational model aircraft within visual line-of-sight.”
Obviously, there are a few differences between model aircraft and personal drones – the addition of a camera, in many cases, being just one - so make sure you look into any other applicable laws in your own State regarding the operation of drones or capturing of personal images.
It’s worth keeping in mind here that the classing of drones as business use still applies even if you’re using one over private land at less than 400 feet – even if that activity isn’t directly making you money. For example, a realtor using a drone to take aerial shots of a property is still in breach of the rules and cannot be operated under section 336 of Public Law 112-95 which covers hobbyists.
Two drones do in fact already have certification for commercial use – theScanEagle and Aeroenvironment’s Puma drone – but are only cleared for use in the Arctic. Neither of them are particularly like the sort of consumer drones available to purchase today anyway.
There also seems to be a general understanding that the FAA isn’t responsible for airspace under 400 feet, but this is incorrect, it says. According to the organization, it has broad provisions that cover from the ground up.
“Consistent with its authority, the FAA presently has regulations that apply to the operation of all aircraft, whether manned or unmanned, and irrespective of the altitude at which the aircraft is operating,” it states.
The FAA was planning to look at the use of drones for commercial purposes again and potentially put something more concrete in writing next year, but according to a recent review of the FAA’s progress, it’s falling massively behind its target delivery dates for any regulation covering UAS.
Again, we wouldn’t be surprised to ultimately see some provisions that cover personal drone use too.
Update: The section above has been edited to clarify that model aircraft in the US are currently subject to FAA ‘guidance’ rather than FAA regulations.
So, the bottom line regarding legality of drones for personal and business use is that we are still in the Wild West phase where anything goes – however, employ common sense. There is no reason for a drone to be in an aircraft’s flight path. And ignorance is not an excuse so be careful and ensure that your personal drone use won’t endanger others.
BNI Operatives: Street smart; info savvy.
As always, stay safe.