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
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.