News Round-up

A video taken by the Yuneec Q500, referenced below, and a few short bullet points on interesting developments in UAS that I have come across today.

  • Some manufacturers are recognizing the importance of FAA airspace requirements and are incorporating such limits into their systems.  For example, some commercially available UAS will not fly above 400 feet.  The Yuneec Q500 also has a built in “No-Fly” database, which will prohibit the aircraft from flying in airspace within 5 miles around an airport, in accordance with the Model Use Guidelines.  The video above doesn’t appear to need that feature, since it is a beautiful sunset in a rural location, but good to have!
  • A great resource from the National Conference of State Legislatures.  An updated map that tracks state regulations pertaining to UAS.
  • Training programs are starting to proliferate.  One by Veteran-owned Center Mass  is for law enforcement and is put on in conjunction with Unmanned Safety Institute.  Another for commercial civilian users is being up on 2.27.15 by Monarch Inc (instructors are pilots, some with DOD training). Monarch also develops UAS for commercial use.
  • I finally came across the Small UAV Coalition,which includes members such as Amazon, Google, DJI, Parrot, and Intel.  They advocate for UAS use, educate the public, and are submitting comments to FAA rulemaking and exemption requests.
  • A recent study has found that UAS markets are predicted to increase from $0.6 billion in 2014 to $4.8 billion in 2021.
  • A UAV crashed along the Mexican border near San Diego carrying about 6.5 kg of crystal meth.  This was inevitable, and cannot be ignored.  Good regulations will figure out a way to address this problem without hampering the abilities of legitimate users.

Afghan rugs, Chernobyl, and Winter X Games

In a lighter post, I wanted to illustrate some interesting ways that UAS have entered our culture.

I recently purchased an Afghan “Oriental” rug for my office and truly enjoy it (Aside:  I strongly recommend the family-owned Kebabian’s, the oldest importer of such rugs in the US).  I found this article which discusses how UAS have shown up in rugs weaved in Afghanistan.  I believe this one depicts a predator drone in the center.

Predator Afghan Rug

ESPN has gained authorization to use UAS during the Winter X Games in Aspen this year.  There are limits similar to those the FAA has placed on other organizations who have gained exemptions.  For example, the UAS have to be in controlled environments and cannot be used over people.  I can’t find a 333 Exemption, so I’m wondering if they are using one of the companies previously granted one for the film industry.  I’ll try to track down more info when I have a bit more time!

Finally, was in the Navy prior to being a private-practice attorney and worked in the Navy Nuclear Propulsion Program.  As such, this video caught my eye:

Another Connecticut Update

I am admittedly behind the curve ball on this story, which I heard about today from Joe Acosta of Build Right Fly Right Hobbies.  I’ll defend by saying that I had a newborn at the time and wasn’t exactly following the news closely.  In summary, a woman was arrested for assaulting a man using a UAV at Hammonasset State Park after she became upset that he was taking photos along the crowded beach.

The story made national news and put people throughout the state on high alert.  The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) clarified its ban on the use of UAV in parks; enforced under its disorderly conduct regulations.  There are special use exemptions available – for example the Northeastern Drone Society has an exception for use in Truman Meadows.

This ban isn’t well publicized as far as I can tell, and this document says it is “probably limited to operator and takeoff/landing,” However, one should consider the optics and I wouldn’t want to lecture a Connecticut State Police officer about the FAA’s authority in air at the scene.  I’m not suggesting one should or should not overfly a park from another location, but want to point out the various considerations.

A couple of my photos at Hammonassett (from land of course):

9957301236_449b614a8b_k 9971469316_1fd30c8ed5_k

 

 

 

Next Up: Connecticut

The Connecticut State Legislature is going to discuss options for adding laws relating to UAS during this session.  However, none of the concerns expressed are not already illegal.

For example, Rep. Mary Mushinsky, D-Wallingford stated “We are specifying what cannot be done by a citizen…A citizen would not be able to spy on their ex-husband or carry a weapon or deliver a drug deal with a drone. A lot of these offenses are in statute now, but we just have to make tweaks to include the use of drones to do the forbidden thing.”

The year just started, but I would expect proposed legislation in the not too distant future.

Drone in NJ
South of us in NYC, there is a good article about a group that UAS users can join (photo above is a UAS depicted in the article).  It is called the New York City Drone User Group, and although I can’t find a website it looks like they have a Facebook Group.  The article interviews an experienced UAS user who talks about his experiences flying – including technical failures that will inevitably happen. That is why being part of a group to share experiences, especially in a dense metropolitan area, has its benefits.  As a sidenote regarding recent posts, I do not know what the FAA’s position is regarding how and where they fly and whether they are in Class B airspace, etc.  This post was just to share an interesting story about a group that is trying to do it right.

The article also has some good videos, including one at Bear Mountain, NY.

In other news:

Rapere

The “anti-drone drone” that I mentioned the other day, Rapere, has a website up and running.  This picture is from their website slideshow marketing the new product.  Interestingly, its domain name is http://rapere.io; .io is the country code (ccTLD) for the British Indian Ocean Territory.  Except for Diego Garcia, it is virtually uninhabited – if you want to go down the “internet black hole,”  check out the Wikipedia page.  I bring this aside up because it is an interesting choice.  Perhaps the makers of Rapere know that its use would be highly illegal in the United States (18 U.S. Code § 32 – Destruction of aircraft or aircraft facilities).  At a webinar seminar I attended last week, and have written about previously, the fact that UAS are defined as aircraft means that this statute, with a 20 year maximum penalty, applies to one who attempts to take down a UAS!

 

Recent FAA news

I attended a webinar put on by the FAA.  There was some good news coming out of that.  They are finalizing a proposed rule for small UAS use – so maybe they will take a page from UAS America Fund (see my prior post from before Christmas).  They also discussed how since UAS are defined as aircraft, they are protected from harassment and those who might want to take them down.  They also clarified that once a UAS takes off, FAA regulations govern.  Therefore, the National Parks can prohibit one from taking off or landing, but not flying in their airspace.  That is good news – but again, check to make sure the FAA is authorizing flight in that area to begin with.

Something that you might not think about, but a UAS is going to be classified as a vehicle for purposes of DUI statutes.  The FAA noted that use of UAS while intoxicated (Droning Under the Influence, I guess) is an issue and local law enforcement are not hesitating to prosecute!

Today Senator Schumer called on the FAA to release the UAS regulations that we have all been waiting for.  This after two close calls at the White Plains Airport in Westchester.  Unfortunately, the regulations wouldn’t do anything to help with this – it is already illegal.  Anyone who is flying a UAS should be familiar with Airspace Classes, and particularly around metro New York.  The dotted blue circle around the White Plains Airport designates Class D airspace (up to 3,000 feet) and operation in this area requires two-way communication with the Air Traffic Control Tower.  Furthermore, if one is operating under the Model Use Guidelines (unless you have explicit authorization from the FAA, you are operating under this rule), ATC must give permission prior to authorization.

Westchester Airport

 

There is a lot of misinformation and lack of education out there regarding UAS.  Users need to educate themselves, but so does the general public.  Legislators in Arkansas have introduced a highly restrictive bill that prohibits a large range of imaging from UAS. I’m not sure it would withstand First Amendment scrutiny.

However, Senator McCain has introduced a bill that will force Custom and Border Protection to account for their current UAS fleet.  They have spent almost $500 million implementing a program to protect the border, but have failed woefully at doing so (see the DHS IG report here).

Hobbico ORA UAV

Hobbico-ORA

Hobbico announced a new UAV, the ORA, at CES 2015.  It has a 1080p HD camera and a 7″ OLED touchscreen as part of the transceiver (which operates at 5.8 GHz for better reliability).  The OLED will undoubtedly give the screen great readability regardless of the sun.  The ORA has a return to home feature, programmable GPS waypoints, and even a parachute – according to the video below.  It sounds like it has integrated performance and safety in one unit.

I have had my eye on the Parrot Bepop, but the Sky Controller is not on the market.  I’ve also been looking at the Phantom 2 Vision +, but the price tag is high.  By the way, all there of these UAVs are export controlled, so don’t plan to take it overseas with you.

It is an interesting name, and one report had it as the “Aura,” but best I can tell it is the ORA.  Hobbico does not have the specs, release date, or price on their website but I’ll keep an eye on it.  It is expected early this year.

Developments in Commercial Use

CNN and the FAA have announced a joint agreement to further research the use of UAV for news gathering purposes.  The Cooperative Research and Development Agreement will integrate the work into existing research at the Georgia Tech Research Institute.  It does not appear that CNN is able to actively use UAV for news gathering – this is a step in the process toward the FAA understanding the impact of UAVs in media and it will influence their rule making as it applies to media use of UAV.   There is not a lot of detail available about the agreement, but it looks to build on joint research between CNN and Georgia Tech that began this past summer.  The article notes at least one other university that received a C&D letter for its Drone Journalism program, so this is progress.

Last night, a UAV was present on the red carpet of the Golden Globes. This was not authorized by the FAA!  DJI, the maker of the Phantom, is arguing that is was not commercial because they gave the UAV for use free of charge.  However, I do not think the FAA will agree with that interpretation since they have stated that anything other than recreational or hobby use is prohibited without an exemption.  While no cash was exchanged, one doesn’t need to look hard to see that this was not for recreational purposes.  Everyone involved got a lot of free advertising out of it.  Interestingly, I spent a good part of the day researching “commercial use” for other purposes, so I’ll be interested to see how the FAA responds.
DJI
Phantom at the Golden Globes
I would also like to update a post from the other day based on new information.  I heard back from Rhode Island’s Department of Environmental Management.  There is no blanket ban on UAVs within Rhode Island State Parks.  However, one is required to obtain permission from the Park Facility Manager before using en “engine powered model plane.”  (Park and Management Area Rules and Regulations §3.3). While one can get into a philosophical discussion regarding the definition of “engine,”  it is being interpreted to include electric motors.  The Deputy Chief who responded to me stated that he is not aware of any written permission being granted.
I also saw that a user was sent an official warning for using his UAV in a National Wildlife Refuge.  What is interesting in that the ban was not clearly marked and that the Fish and Wildlife Service investigated after-the fact upon the report from a third party.

FAA Guidance to Law Enforcement and case updates

Today the FAA issued guidance to law enforcement to assist them in understanding the regulation of UAVs and to help the FAA in its enforcement.

The document is linked here: FAA Guidance to Law Enforcement.  It lays out the legal means one can fly a UAV (model use exemption for non-commercial purposes, COA for public entities, Experimental exception, and Section 333 exemption).  It then goes on to discuss how law enforcement can assist the FAA.  The FAA has sent out numerous Cease and Desist Letters, but as discussed in previous posts, there has been only one known enforcement action.  I quote from the document below, but it does sound like the FAA is trying to get help from local authorities and in my opinion they are clearly mixing criminal and safety functions:

“While the FAA must exercise caution not to mix criminal law enforcement with the FAA’s administrative safety enforcement function, the public interest is best served by coordination and fostering mutual understanding and cooperation between governmental entities with law enforcement responsibilities. Although there are Federal criminal statutes that may be implicated by some UAS operations (see 49 U.S.C. § 44711), most violations of the FAA’s regulations may be addressed through administrative enforcement measures.”

Maybe my comments were premature regarding the FAA’s desire to focus on recklessness.  Time will tell whether this guidance provides the FAA with a glut of information with which to enforce their interpretation of the rules.

Also, I wanted to link to this blog post by someone in one of my UAV discussion groups.  The first case supports the thought that my previous comments were premature.  The second is a case I will try to keep an eye on:

  • Michael Huerta, Administrator, Federal Aviation Administration v. Skypan International Inc.:  The FAA has brought a petition asking the court to order enforcement of a subpoena against Skypan.  Skypan had contracts valued at over $100,000 to take aerial photography pictures around New York City.  The FAA has been seeking a large number of documents.  I will try to get into the details at a future date, but needless to say this is costing Skypan a lot of money.  So whether you agree or disagree with the FAA’s interpretation of the rules for commercial use, you cannot deny the headache this is causing Skypan.
  • UAS America Fund, LLC, et al. v. Federal Aviation Administration:  I wrote about UAS America Fund shortly before Christmas.  I will write more about this case as well in the near future, but for now it is in abeyance.  This case relates the the FAA’s “Interpretation of the Special Rule for Model Aircraft,” 79 FED. REG. 36,172 (June 25, 2014) which applies the rule for model aircraft to UAVs and therefore bans the use of UAVs for commercial purposes.

Hartford UAV Incident

Close to home in Hartford, CT, a UAV user was investigated by the FAA for flying his UAV over the police response to a fatal car crash on February 1, 2014.  The FAA has released the FOIA report, with some minor redactions. – FAA FOIA

Police had asked the owner to stop using his UAV and he complied with the request.  However, the FAA became aware of the issue from a news report and investigated the use.  The owner of the UAV was also employed by a local news station, but stated he was acting in his personal capacity at the time.

The report states “With no evidence that a careless or reckless operation or commercial operation were conducted this matter is considered closed” [the grammar is the FAA’s, not mine].

I have written about Mr. Pirker at UVA, and I think this has some parallels.  Mr. Pirker was fined for his reckless use.  In this case, the user did not admit to commercial use, but he was working for a news agency and had his UAV over a serious police and medical situation.  While the FAA noted the lack of evidence of commercial use, they could have pushed the issue based on some obvious assumptions; but they did not.  While not as telling as Mr. Pirker’s case, it could be read to show that the real concern is reckless operation.  The FAA will investigate commercial use, but if the user claims it was a personal use and it was done safely, there might not be anything that the FAA can do.

Please do not take this as my suggestion that safe commercial use is acceptable in the FAA’s eyes.  They have said it is not.  I am trying to analyze their response to figure out what is driving their regulatory actions.