Drone Rules Suck (and Here’s Why You Want Them…)

Everything in life has rules and most everyone complains about them from time to time. “Traffic is bad today, why can’t I just drive on the sidewalk?” “I just need a quick snack, no one will notice that I swiped a bag of peanuts from the store...”

Drones are no different. Each morning I get up to read my news streams and sure enough, there’s some guy who broke the rules and/or some person complaining about the recommendations or rules for UAV/drones.  One can’t blame some of the complainers; the people that are breaking the rules make it more difficult for those of us that try to follow them. And to be fair, some of the UAV/drone rules and laws are not only unreasonable but downright ineffective. Some of them are a knee-jerk reaction from local politicians who are for the most part, ignorant of the FAA and existing laws.

But, why do we need to have these rules in the first place? Why can’t common sense prevail?

Let’s tackle the last one first.

“Common Sense” isn’t common at all.

The Dunning Kruger effect plays a significant role in the UAV/drone community, and if you don’t know what it is, follow the link. You will likely appreciate the reference. We’ve all been “that person” at least once in our lifetimes.

The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.

Many drone owners purchase drones, drive to the park, drop in the battery, and fly. Some may visit webpages, join communities, and at the least gain a basic knowledge of survival skills with their drone. A fraction seek training, read books, or take a course at a local drone instructional.  As a result, a small percentage of drone operators fly their vehicles into Ferris wheels, joggers, infants, windows, over ski race courses, etc.

WHY A MAXIMUM OF 400′ AGL?

With limited exception, general aviation is not permitted to fly below 500′ AGL (above Ground Level) in uncongested areas (FAR 91.119). Helicopters have some specific exclusions. This minimum altitude coupled with the UAV maximum of 400′ provides for a 100′ buffer between general aviation and UAV operations. In theory this should work well towards keeping UAV out of the flight path of any general aviation aircraft.

WHY MORE THAN 5 MILES FROM AN AIRPORT/AERODROME?

When aircraft are landing, they fly a “cone” that may have them at various altitudes. This airspace is understandably, highly controlled. The rule does not mean you absolutely cannot fly within these areas; it means operators must contact the control tower before flight. My experience has been that they’re very willing, polite, and appreciative of the contact. Be prepared to tell them exactly where you’ll be flying (Lat/Long are nice, but I’ve never been asked for those), altitude you’ll be flying (I’ve never asked for more than 400′, but one certainly can ask), time of day you wish to fly, and for how long you’ll be flying. They’ll likely ask for a phone number, and on two occasions, I’ve received a call-back from the tower verifying that my mission is complete.

WHY ARE DRONES VLOS?

This should be fairly self-evident. Visual Line Of Sight means the operator or a spotter can always see the UAV/drone. Currently, FPV without a spotter is not permitted in North America. Using an FPV device does not align with “VLOS.” However, using a spotter is permissible. Someone with control must always have a visual fix on the UAV. This is one of the reasons that UAV flight beyond one mile is generally not a good plan.

NO FLIGHT NEAR PEOPLE OR STADIUMS

Persons not involved/aware of your flight have a right to a reasonable expectation of safety. This includes not being concerned about what might fall on their heads while enjoying a football game. There have already been several instances of UAV/drones falling into stadiums and in at least one case, injuring a spectator. In most cases of stadium flight, the operator was also violating VLOS rules.

WHY IS “MORE THAN 25′ AWAY FROM PERSONS” REQUIRED?

Similar to the above explanation, UAS can harm people. There have been multiple instances of bystanders being injured, including two infants, during the landing operation of UAV/drones. Aside from it being a rule, it’s simply sensible to take off and land far away from people in the event of an unruly drone. Remember, blades can be very sharp.

HERE’S A LONG RULE:  

Do not fly near or over sensitive infrastructure or property such as power stations, water treatment facilities, correctional facilities, heavily traveled roadways, government facilities, etc.

Why? It should be fairly self-explanatory. In one recent drone incident, the pilot flew his DJI Inspire into a power line. The utility company is currently suing him for the $40,000.00 in damages incurred from the UAV cutting lines, manpower to repair/restore electricity, etc. Not flying over prisons seems self explanatory, no? Avoiding government facilities, such as the recent flyover a nuclear submarine base is likely a good idea, given that if one is caught, jail time and heavy fines are to be expected.

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RESPECT THE PRIVACY OF OTHERS

If you fly a typical UAV, you already know that the cameras on these devices is fairly wide-angled, and incapable of taking detailed pictures of the general public without the UAV being very, very close to the subject. The general public doesn’t know this, and one shouldn’t expect them to. They don’t know what you know. All they know is that a drone with a camera is pointed their way and like most rational people, they’ll be upset. If you’re going to be shooting photos or video of a landmark or people, be courteous and let them know. Talk to the people around, put up signs, notify authorities; take responsible action to prevent problems for yourself or others that might want to fly in that area in the future.

BE RESPECTFUL OF ANIMALS AND WILDLIFE

This isn’t in the FAA or Transport Canada guidelines; it’s one of my own. Dogs love to chase drones. Dog’s noses are very tender and soft and when a flying Cuisinart blade hits the dog’s nose, blood is likely to ensue. The same goes for filming wildlife. There are many videos of irresponsible (albeit understandable) drone operators wanting to fly near wildlife who have found their drone being attacked by cheetahs, mountain goats, antelope, monkeys, and other wild animals. While it’s understandable to want to get close to them in their habitat, be sure to keep a distance where the animal isn’t going to be able to reach the UAV and possibly be harmed by it. Taking a dog to a vet to get a nose stitched up is one thing; capturing and taking an antelope in to get an eye treated is entirely another thing.

All in all, the “rules” are quite simple, if one applies logic and some minimal form of self-evaluation regarding skill. One does not buy a drone and within 10-12 flights become “proficient.” It takes at least 40 hours of flight time to become reasonably proficient. This equals approximately 120 flights of an average battery time of 20 minutes per flight. Sound familiar? It requires 40 hours of flight to earn a beginner’s private pilot license, too.9.10.15-Drones-for-Hyperactive-Dogs1-590x385

Applied knowledge goes a long way to better practices and as the old saying goes, Perfect Practice makes perfect.

PUBLISHED BY DSE

I’ve been a successful sales manager, musician, film/video professional, instructional designer, and skydiver. Picked up a few pieces of gold, brass, titanium, and tin along the way. This blog is where I spill my guts about how I’m feeling at any given moment, and maybe a blurb or two about what’s happening in the sales, video, or skydiving worlds.

IRRESPONSIBLE DRONE-RSHIP

The media are all about small Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (sUAV) these days, perhaps better known as “drones.” Drones add significant value to our lives and will become more important as we move forward into the future. However, with all technologies come great responsibilities. One of those responsibilities is how we operate our personal UAV/drones.

Last week in Clarendon, Texas, a newbie drone owner/operator decided to check out an antelope. The “pilot” is a self-admitted newbie, claiming he only has “20 or so flights” on his newly acquired device and perhaps that’s the reason for his short-sighted approach in flying his device close to a wild animal.

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There certainly is nothing wrong with wanting to capture the antelope in a natural setting. In fact, some would be a little jealous of such terrific subjects to film. Where this endeavor went wrong is when the drone owner decided to try to film the animal at eye-level and up close.

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The antelope makes an attempt to run away and the drone operator chose to chase the animal at high speed. The antelope turns and wants to check out the drone. Due to the erratic flight of the drone/poor piloting, the antelope perceives a threat and attacked the drone before running off.

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The drone doesn’t suffer much damage, but what about the antelope?

Veterinarians all over the world have made comment about the dangers propellers bring to dogs-noses. There have been a few cases of eye-loss, at least three of them infants who have been injured by propellers. In this article, several prop injuries can be seen.

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It’s not as though these flying Cuisinarts are entirely face-friendly. The face shown here was cut with the same model drone as used in the antelope video. With this in mind, I approached the owner of the drone. He felt strongly that an animal’s face is tough enough to handle this sort of incident and that it couldn’t possibly harm the animal in any way.

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Regardless of the drone operator’s opinion, it stands to reason that even small drones like the popular white DJI Phantom can do damage to eyes and other soft tissues whether human or beast, as evidenced by hundreds of photographs around the web.

The particular drone I was using wouldn’t break the skin on my hand…” Travis Higgins, drone pilot

This little guy has permanently lost his eye to a DJI Phantom propeller, the same model drone seen in this antelope video.

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I can’t particularly fault the drone owner for being defensive; he truly doesn’t know what he doesn’t know, but hopefully the many posts on his YouTube account have informed him that he made a mistake and it won’t be repeated. YouTube certainly provides some good learning opportunities. There are many websites, pages, and community groups where new drone operators can gain knowledge and awareness of how to best manage their drone use.

But what about other drone owners? Do they “get it?” 

If recent news articles ranging from flying a drone into the side of the Empire State Building, to a drone owner attempting to get close to presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (just before he crashed it into a building as well), it would seem many drone owners aren’t understanding the impact and risk that the excitement of drones bring to the community. In this particular case, the operator continually referred to himself as a “licensed pilot who knows the FAA rules.” There are no FAA rules that apply here; common sense should prevail. Yet he’s convinced that “since he’s an FAA-licensed pilot, what he’s doing is OK.

What might have the drone operator done to not endanger the antelope while still getting great footage?

  • Learn to fly more gracefully/skillfully before putting the drone into the personal space of people or animals. The FAA recommendations are that drones are never closer than 100′ to “non-involved individuals.”

  • Never fly at an altitude or distance that is in close proximity of living beings. In this case, 10′ up would have sufficed; the image could have been post-processed in editing to crop/zoom in on the subject). Again, a topic related to learning more about the device, its camera system, and the technology.

  • Be respectful of the animal. If it runs off it likely is scared and it’s possible the drone could induce the animal to self-injury. Keep your distance. Every year, Yellowstone Park has a percentage of visitors injured or killed because they can’t recognize this rule. They, like the drone pilot in this video, think the animals are like pets and can be gotten close to.

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A final comment; the owner of this drone and video claimed his flight was not commercial as he wasn’t being paid to shoot it, but does claim the video is intended for a wildlife conservation video. Money does not need to exchange hands to be considered “commercial” by the FAA. Indeed, if this video is anything more than a couple of buddies having some fun and capturing some hobby footage, it becomes “commercial.” Given that this particular video has received attention from CBS and ABC requesting use for remuneration, and that it’s receiving coins from YouTube for play, it falls into the category of “commercial.” Any commercial video requires a 333 exemption from the FAA, and without it, it is subject to very expensive fines. Be very aware of this, as the FAA and Transport Canada are watching YouTube and social media sites, and several individuals have been charged with using drones for commercial use, although that may not have been the drone operator’s original intent.

Drone owners are very concerned about potential rules, regulations, and controls placed by the government on our technology. Unfortunately, these sorts of videos cause enough uproar that the government truly has little choice but to try to protect us from ourselves.

Be responsible. Fly within the recommendations of the FAA or your local authorities. Understand that not everyone wants to be part of your drone video.  Be considerate, be safe.

[the owner of the video has now disabled comments after receiving many negative comments about the flight]

 DSE

I’ve been a successful sales manager, musician, film/video professional, instructional designer, and skydiver. Picked up a few pieces of gold, brass, titanium, and tin along the way. This blog is where I spill my guts about how I’m feeling at any given moment, and maybe a blurb or two about what’s happening in the sales, video, or skydiving worlds.

By | February 22nd, 2016|Drone, Drone Safety, Regulations, sUAS Regulation, sUAS Safety|0 Comments