Volcanos, Agriculture, Ansel Adams, and the role of the FAA

Volcano video
Pico de Fogo, a volcano on the island of Cape Verde, erupted in December, causing significant damage to the nearby towns of Portela and Bangeira. This video shows a valuable potential benefit of UAVs in disaster situations. While it was used for documentary purposes in Cape Verde, UAVs could be used for rescue and delivering supplies.  This brings back memories of Hurricane Katrina.  Whether lava or water, both disasters cut off normal means of access to the municipalities and UAVs could speed recovery.
Advanced Aviation Section 333 Exemption
eBee Ag
There was a second Section 333 exemption granted yesterday, this one to Advanced Aviation Solutions, LLC.  I wanted to get out the post on the Tucson 333 exemption since I thought it provided great insight, but here is the other for completeness. Advanced Aviation have been granted authorization to use an eBee Ag UAV “to conduct photogrammetry and crop scouting in order to perform precision agriculture.”  The analysis was very similar to that for the exemption to Douglas Trudeau in Tucson with a few interesting points.  The petition asked for a special airworthiness certificate in the experimental category (14 CFR §21.191), but the FAA chose to grant an exemption under Section 333 with numerous limitations.
Advanced Aviation asked to operate in an inherently rural area, which distinguishes it from Mr. Trudeau’s application and the FAA felt that Advanced Aviation had a better training program in place.  The Small UAV Coalition again wrote in support and both the Air Line Pilots Association, International (ALPA) and the National Agricultural Aviation Association (NAAA) wrote in opposition.  Advanced will have more flexibility in using their UAV because of the rural nature of their operations, but are subject to most of the same limitations as Mr. Trudeau.  I am sure the NAAA is particularly worried about this exemption and the future of agricultural aviation.
The role of the FAA
I listened to an excellent presentation today regarding drones and the presenter commented that many drone blogs are charged and one-sided.  That has been my experience as well, but I hope that I have tried to stay more detached than some.  However I realized that I have probably been too deferential the the FAA’s position, even as I have been critical of them.  I previously discussed Mr. Pirker’s case, where the court allowed the FAA to fine him for reckless operation of his drone around the UVA campus.  The presentation pointed out that he was not fined for using his UAV for hire (which he was), but for using it recklessly.  I have discussed both these requirements in the past and their analysis of the case is correct, but I missed their take-away: that this has sent the message that use for hire won’t be prosecuted unless done so recklessly.
This is a very fine line.  While the presenters noted that the insurance industry is underwriting the commercial use of drones and Mr. Pirker wasn’t fined for his commercial use, the FAA is publicly on record as stating that any use for hire without an exemption is not authorized.  This puts users in a difficult position – do they seek a 333 exemption with the strict limitation I discussed yesterday and above, or do they try to operate safely and hope the FAA does not send a Cease and Desist order? (Is is better to beg for forgiveness or ask for permission?)  Each user will have to weigh the risks and benefits of each option.
Regardless, this emphasizes what I have been discussing this past month – consider the regulations and local guidance, and then think through your flight plan to make sure you are operating your UAV in a safe and respectful manner.  While you still might be running afoul of the official FAA position, you can protect yourself from liability for reckless operation and invasion of privacy.
Ansel Adams Bill
A new bill, entitled the “Ansel Adams Act” (H.R. 5893), has been introduced in Congress this week.  It’s goal is to restore the First Amendment rights of photographers by statutorily allowing them to take photos in public places.  Here is an article about it and here is the text.  This isn’t exactly UAV-related but is the opposite direction from Europe, where one cannot take pictures of a person in public without their permission – a big concern for aerial photographers.
2014 UAV photos
I will finish on a light note, having found this website.  It includes what the authors consider to be the 19 best UAV photos of 2014.  While I can’t say they are definitively the best, they are beautiful, so enjoy.

Aerial Photography in Rhode Island

I was inquiring about the use of UAV’s for photography in Rhode Island and was told that DEM (Department of Environmental Management) has prohibited the use of UAVs in state parks.  I can’t find anything on Google about this ban and am working to get more details, but I wanted to share this so everyone is aware.

There are also local and temporary bans for special events.  I found an article about a temporary ban in Newport during the start of the Newport to Bermuda race.  I don’t know about the Volvo Ocean Race, but I can bet that is in the works.  These races are perfect opportunities for awesome photos, but do your research first!

Since it is somewhat relevant, a non-aerial shot on Narragansett Bay:

Americas Cup 12 ColorCross

New 333 Exemption Granted to Realtor

The FAA granted a new 333 exemption today to an Arizona realtor.

On July 12, 2014, a Tuscon-based realtor asked for a Section 333 exemption “to operate the PHANTOM 2 Vision+ quad-copter unmanned aircraft system (UAS) to conduct aerial videography and cinematography to enhance academic community awareness for those individuals and companies unfamiliar with the geographical layout of the metro Tucson area and augment real estate listing videos.”

His request was published in the Federal Register in August 2014 and received five comments.  Three expressed concerns (with one outright opposed) and two were in support.  The Air Line Pilots Association was opposed to a waiver for a FAA Commercial Pilot Certificate since this was a commercial request – sounds like a job-security concern rather than a safety concern.  Another concerns was the loss of C2 and the need for a safe-mode should a loss of C2 occur – something I think is reasonable.

The analysis noted that a manned flight accomplishing the same goals would require an aircraft weighing at least 5,000 lbs and 100 gallons of fuel, compared to a 3 pound UAV.

The FAA believes it does not have authority to waive the requirement for pilot certification, but only required the Pilot-in-Command (PIC) to have a private pilot certificate.  While it isn’t requiring a commercial pilot certificate, the applicant possesses neither.  The FAA reduced but did not eliminate the need for training in hours logged by the PIC in three flight  categories (general, on a similar aircraft, and on the same make and model aircraft).  The FAA declined to issue a temporary certificate pending completion.

Most interestingly, given that the request was for use in metro-Tucson, the FAA limited use in congested areas, summarized in part:

  • Avoid “yellow” areas on VFR charts (see below – this includes much of Tucson)
  • Stay 500 feet away from people and certain objects when in congested areas
  • Stay 500 feet away from vessels, structures, and vehicles unless the owner’s authorization is obtained

So the FAA granted the exemption subject to numerous limitations because the “enhanced safety and reduced environmental impact achieved using a [UAV] with the specifications described” makes it within the public interest.  However, the limitations essentially negate the usefulness of the exemption.  It seems like the FAA granted to exemption to show it is doing something, but granted it in a way that it knew it would be useless.

Tucson VFR

A quick update on other news:

Close to home, there have been six “drone sightings” by pilots in Massachusetts in the past seven months.  Honestly, some sound dubious, but most, if accurate, are not your run-on-the-mill Phantom.  They seem larger and are flying at higher elevations: http://www.bizjournals.com/boston/blog/techflash/2015/01/pilots-have-encountered-drones-six-times-in-the.html

The UK authorities are reminding people that it is illegal to fly drones near crowds or landmarks.  This is because people are doing it.  Again, unless you’re an absolute pro who has coordinated with authorities, I’m not sure why flying your amateur drone over lots of people in downtown London or near landmarks known to be terrorist targets seems like a good idea: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/11327001/Police-warn-that-flying-drones-near-landmarks-is-illegal.html

A drone user is coming under scrutiny from a local Police Chief after his aerial video of Christmas lights surfaced online.  He seems to have had a safe plan and sought out the police, but doesn’t sound like the police chief got the memo.  Illustrates my point that you need to be ready to justify your actions.  If my use was questionable, I’d have written authorization in my pocket while flying! http://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/naperville-lisle/ct-drones-naperville-tl-20150105-story.html

Regulations, Training, and Public Perception

Public Perception

Even though the title finishes with Public Perception, I’ll talk about it first since I feel it is so important (“Primacy and Recency” – people remember the first and last thing you say and forget what is in-between).  We don’t have proposed rules from the FAA, and instead need to deal with vague “recreational use” guidelines and random local guidance.  I wrote recently about how Australia is tightening UAS guidelines and now below about the Philippines.  I also discuss a number of investigations into UAS use in D.C.  On the bright side, enthusiasts are starting training sessions and groups like UAS America Fund are trying to push the regulators in the right direction.

Battles are won today not by the side who is “right,” but by the side which wins over public and media opinion.  Those who approve of UAS use should realize there are valid concerns by opponents and that there are people who are using UAS in inadvisable situations.  I applaud the groups who are educating the public, both through training and awareness.

We also should be sensitive to uses that, while justifiable, are not advisable.  Even disregarding the D.C. UAS ban, one should realize that the public will see a UAS on theNational Mall or outside an NFL game as a terrorist threat, not as a benign user getting “cool” pictures of the Mall or kick-off.  If you are using your UAS in a populated neighborhood, realize that your neighbors might question your motives.  I am not saying don’t use it in your neighborhood, but be aware of view from the other side.  Perhaps it would be better to organize and publicize a UAS training event one weekend at a public park (after checking with your municipality).  This will raise awareness and help show others that you are using your UAS ethically. I know I am preaching to the choir in regard to many, but it can’t be said enough.

 

Most importantly, always check to be sure that your use is legal.  Even if you think it qualifies under the FAA’s recreational use guidelines, be sure you are not running afoul of local law or regulation.

Training

A group of UAS advocates ran a nationwide training event last weekend called “Drone for the Holidays.” A group in Georgia, Bartow County Model Aviation, put on a nice event, as did a group in Richmond, VA.  Australia requires training before one can fly a drone commercially and the proposed regulation from UAS America Fund requires some rudimentary practice before commercial use.  This is a great effort by enthusiasts to educate users about the safe use of UAS and the public about how users are filling the void to make the use of UAS safe.USA_no_namesbcma dfth flyer Screen Shot 2015-01-05 at 1.22.37 PMUnfortunately, there is still a long way to go.  There have been over 20 investigations into drone flights in the D.C. area in the past few months, included around Reagan National Airport and just before a Redskins game.  Even though the FAA allows recreational use in many circumstances, use of UAS in D.C. (in brief: a 10 mile radius around Reagan, see here for details) or in National Parks (Policy Memorandum here) is completely prohibited.  A foreign user was stopped this summer by Park Police for use of a drone near the Lincoln Memorial (Incident Report). He claimed ignorance and got off, but I would not expect to be so lucky.

Regulations

The big news in the UAS world is the nonevent – the FAA’s failure to issue proposed rules by the end of 2014.  In a response to an Indianapolis news station’s email, the FAA replied: “We are continuing to work with our administration colleagues to finish the rule. I am sorry to say I do not have a date for you.”  There is nothing to indicate that the rules are near completion.

In international news, the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) has issued implementing guidelines for the use of UAS in that country.  This was prompted by a number of unauthorized UAS flights.  Fines range from about $6,500 to $11,000.

Conclusion

There is a lot going on in the world of UAS, just not from the FAA.  In the meantime, fill he void and educate the public.  If you are aware of local regulations that I should share, please email them to me.

 

 

British UAV photographer arrested

A British aerial photographer was arrested while flying his drone by authorities, even though he had authorization from the CAA (the British equivalent of the FAA).

He was attempted to obtain pictures of a fire and had verbal authorization from the landowner.  The police arrested him for “breach of the peace” and took the controller away from him to land the UAV themselves, but released him without charges 5 hours later.  He has not received his equipment back as of yet.

He filed a complaint with the CAA regarding the incident and I will follow this story.

I also saw a post on a legal UAV blog about a recreational user in the US who was visited by police after neighbors complained about the use of a UAV on his property.

UAVs garner strong opinions, and police (and your neighbors) can still make trouble, even if you are complying with the FAA guidelines.  Be ready to justify your actions!