One of the most contentious topics of conversation for hobbyists in 2016 is that of drone law and regulation that, at first glance, can be seen to be governments’ attempts to curtail how people enjoy their free time.
The most common assumption around drones is that they are “just a toy” therefore it doesn’t make sense for the government to get involved and start drafting whole sets of drone law and regulation.
This argument could be valid since, while there are high-end drones for sale that are extremely costly, there are also drones clearly aimed at children that cost about $50. If it’s aimed at children then it must be a toy right?
A drone can be a toy. It can also be a fantastic tool for your business, or an exciting pastime to enjoy with friends. However, we all need to be aware that a drone is also a relatively large machine that travels at fast speeds and has spinning blades attached to it. The fact that there is a High-Definition camera attached to the front just makes the issue more complicated.
In truth, the intention behind the development of drone law and regulations is simply to keep this exciting new hobby safe and to ensure that nobody is going to get injured, or have their property and/or rights damaged.
To really get an understanding around the current requirement for drone law and regulations it is necessary to start at the basics:
Note: The purpose of this article is to give an overview of recreational drones, so we will ignore the fact that a Military Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) is also referred to as a drone. We will also put aside the discussion around Amazon’s potential use of drones for deliveries.
What is a drone and why do I need to register it?
According to the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) a drone is classified as a model aircraft that is flown for recreational or hobby purposes. The model aircraft also needs to be capable of sustained flight and is flown within constant sight of the hobbyist who is controlling it.
The latest set of drone law and regulations require a drone, if it weighs more than 0.55 pounds and less than 55 pounds, to be registered with the FAA and for the FAA to give authorisation for certain types of drone use.
The key points here is that as long as the drone is used exclusively for recreational or hobby purposes, then it is classified as a model aircraft.
The FAA was very clear on this – Intent matters. If you want to use your drone to capture news or news related information then you need FAA authorization. If you happen to be flying your drone and accidentally gather some news-worthy information… Then authorisation is not required.
Where can I fly it?
The guidelines on where you can fly your drone are pretty obvious and straightforward. You need to keep the drone under 400 feet and should not fly over obstacles like buildings, trees, and powerlines. This limitation is closely linked to the fact that you need to be able to see the drone at all times. How can you maintain line-of-sight when you just flew the drone over the neighbours’ house?
Another important guideline is that you must stay at least 25 feet away from other people and any vulnerable property. This means you could not fly over your neighbours’ house – even if you could see exactly where the drone is!
Stay away from airports and other no-fly zones
It is best to avoid flying your drone within 5 miles of an airport, and if you do have to operate it within this radius, you will need to advise the airport and control tower. One of the biggest concerns amongst lawmakers is that drones could damage other Manned Aircraft, or be used to take pictures of sensitive areas. As a hobbyist it is best to use some common sense and not test your drone out near the local military airfield.
Respect other people’s privacy
The fact that your drone can fly around and snap pictures or videos means you need to be responsible with regard to the rights of your fellow citizens to privacy and private property. There can be no circumstances where it is acceptable to get some shots of your neighbours bedroom, or your competitors office.
If you want to use your drone in any way that can impact your business or generate income, you need to apply for FAA authorisation. Some simple examples of potential use would be: Professional real estate pictures, wedding photography or cinema photography.
As a hobbyist or recreational user, you should quite easily understand the intentions behind the current drone laws and regulations. These guidelines are in place to make it safer, not only for the recreational drone flyer, but also for the people around him. It’s a simple matter to register your drone (if necessary) so go online, register and enjoy flying.