March 17, 2014 (Scottsdale, AZ)
There has been a lot in the news lately about drones. These are the small, multi-rotor, radio controlled type that you can buy for around $300 and mount a camera too. You may have heard some of the mishaps regarding them. There was a drone that crashed into the crowded streets in New York City, almost hitting a businessman. Another one crashed into a crowd of spectators at a sporting event, when its batteries died; hitting three adults and just missing a child.
The FAA isn’t happy about the sudden popularity and use of drones and the disregard for aviation laws by operators. They want to make sure the public is safe from accidents. But, it looks like drones are here to stay. Their popularity among multiple industries, like real estate agencies making aerial videos of properties for sale and film makers getting that perfect aerial shot, is growing rapidly. Since these drones are so affordable, it’s making them really popular for small, start-up businesses and the general public. The FAA predicts at least 7,500 of them will be maneuvering around the skies in the next five years.
The trouble with these “Unmanned Aircraft Systems,” (UASs), as the FAA classifies them, is the safety issues. They are concerned about them flying over populated areas or crowed events and their operators losing control of them. The FAA says that anyone using a drone for commercial use is breaking the law. The FAA classifies a drone being used for business as a commercial aircraft and is therefore illegal. The FAA is currently working on laws surrounding UASs. They are considering rules for drones that weigh less than 55 pounds and separate regulations for larger ones.
In the mean time businesses are very excited at the aspect of using drones. There is the beer company in Minnesota that wants to deliver 12 packs of beer to remote ice fisherman on a lake, by drone. Then, you may have heard Amazon wants to deliver your packages from their distribution centers to your front door via drone. Film makers and TV news stations are using drones for aerial coverage in some cases, instead of hiring expensive helicopters. A drone was used by a Los Angeles film company to film aerial scenes in the recent film The Wolf of Wall Street and for a Honda commercial. The FAA can’t police all the companies that break the current laws, but if they do find companies illegally using drones, they will ask them to stop. Most companies using drones believe they are not breaking the law because they believe they can fly them under the hobbyist model aircraft rules, which allow model, radio controlled planes to fly under 400 feet. However, this only applies to hobbyists, not people flying drones for commercial use.
The concerns of the FAA are valid. Recently a drone was spotted by pilots of a Boeing 777 at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport, flying only 200 feet from the jet. Other pilots have reported similar incidents with drones flying near them. Others fear drones equipped with video cameras can invade their privacy and allow people to spy on them. Anyone with a drone and a camera can hover just about anywhere and film what’s going on. More advanced high-tech drones are being developed too. Some of the next generation, advanced models will be considerably larger and cost in the millions. We’ll have to see what the future holds for drones. The FAA is said to be meeting now to outline rules, that will be released sometime this year and they are also issuing permits to test drones by companies developing them. In the meantime, keep an eye toward the sky.