Monday, August 10, 2015

A Background And Basic Overview of Drone Laws

The FAA is currently working to refine drone use regulations.

In a previous post we introduced you to the newest FPAN team member in our super-region, an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle named Boas 1. The last few years have seen a steady growth in the UAV market and interest by the general public has perhaps never been higher. Drone sales for recreational use by the general public are projected to increase steadily over the next several years meaning that drones, their regular use in public, and issues of drone use are more than likely here to stay. 
Buying stock in UAV tech companies might be a good idea.

Of course with any new advancement in technology that is unleashed on the general public we quickly see both the great potential and the technology as well as the various ways it can be misused, misconstrued, and just plain misunderstood. 
These are people that have the right to vote and say things.

A good example of this situation was the introduction of Google Glass in 2013. Google Glass was at the cusp of the current and growing trend of wearable technology; allowing the wearer to do things like read email, use the internet, experience augmented reality displays, and take photos. By 2015 Google had decided to stop producing the Glass prototype due in part to privacy and security concerns; users could collect data or pics surreptitiously and some groups saw this as a threat to personal privacy. Users of Google Glass became the butt of jokes in the media and were even given their own derogatory moniker: Glassholes.
Friends don't let friends be glassholes.

As with Google Glass, UAVs are at the center of quite a bit of debate about their use and regulation, certainly privacy concerns comprise a good portion of that debate as well. While many organizations (such as the groups utilizing UAVs for archaeological research discussed in the last post) laud the capabilities of drone use in research, and more and more people are using them for fun photography or video production, a few cases have highlighted the potential issues with the growing trend of drone use in the U.S. In May of 2015, a man was arrested for attempting to fly a drone over the White House. In April of this year the first recorded case of drone vandalism was noted on a Calvin Klein billboard in New York City. This year a number of incidents have involved the flight of drones too close to airports, causing concern over the safety and well-being of commercial aircraft. 
Graffiti artist Katsu makes this ad in NYC worth looking at.

The use of drones has certainly outpaced the ability of the Federal Aviation Authority to create a set of regulations to handle the myriad ways that drones can be used and misused. Some argue that this slow response is to blame for the misuse of drones in by the public; the argument that if regulation was in place before the growth of drone use, there would be training and certification programs in place to better educate the public about the use of UAVs. Regardless, the FAA has a set of rules in place and are actively working on creating more substantial regulations to deal with the growth of the drone industry. 

Currently there are three categories for drone use in the U.S. as dictated by the FAA: Public Operations (Governmental), Civil Operations (Non-Governmental), and Model Aircraft use. Most of the drones being used in the U.S. currently by the public would fall into the category of Model Aircraft (Hobby and Recreation). 

Public Operations use is largely self explanatory and not something most drone enthusiasts will be dealing with. Increasingly drones are seen by some private companies as a new, innovative way to record information or conduct surveillance. Drones are being used to inspect construction, in agriculture, for gathering film or television footage, etc. For any purposes where using a drone is done as part of a business operation, the Civil Operations category applies. Within this category the FAA provides the option to apply for a Section 333 exemption or a Special Airworthiness Certificate for the use of UAVs which allows the use of a drone under certain circumstances to be used by these entities. 

The Model Aircraft category is the section under which FPAN operates Boas 1. Drone users operating drones under the parameters of this category do not require special training or certification, but must comply with a few specific rules (see infographic below). As FPAN's focus is outreach and education about archaeological sites, Boas 1 helps us to bring this new technology to the public to discuss its uses in the field of archaeology. 
Very simple, easy to follow rules. Do it!

For all categories there are certain places you simply cannot use a drone: Within 5 miles of an airport (for most cases), in National Parks, and within the limits of the District of Columbia. 
These signs are not science fiction. You are living in the FUTURE!

Broadly, these are the regulations in place at the current time for the use of drones by the public in the U.S. Recent talks between the FAA, UAV technology companies, and with input from the public, have taken place with the goal of better defining the regulations in place concerning drones. More than likely as cost decreases and availability and capability increase, the regulations will need to be changed yet again. Overall, the regulations in place for the public use of drones by the FAA are liberal and understanding of the public's fascination with this new technology while also acknowledging the great potential of drones as tools in many different areas of the private sector. The rules provided are broad and there are certainly gray areas. It is up to each drone user to think critically about their use of a drone, to be concerned with safety of those around them, and to represent the UAV community well wherever they may be. In short, don't be a Dronehole.

Text: Kevin Gidusko
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