Category Archives: News

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.

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!

 

 

French UAV’s

As discussed in my first post, specifically in the article linked to by it, the French are ahead of the United States in commercial UAV use.  The French postal service, La Poste, is testing the use of UAVs to deliver mail to remote parts of the country, up to 12 miles away from the ground-based user.  DHL was also authorized to use a UAV to deliver medical supplies to an island off of Germany.  Compare this to the treatment of UAVs by the FAA.

Here in the US, proposed regulations are now expected by the end of this month, but Congress is also teeing up a reauthorization bill that includes FAA funding.  I will be following both of these developments closely.  The latter is likely to include firmer guidance than the last bill, whose timeline the FAA is unlikely to meet.

The French Newspaper Le Monde, published a video entitled: “L’année 2014 vue par les drones” (“2014 from the view of drones”).  Note that there is one scene that is inappropriate for children or work toward the end, but it does illustrate the privacy concerns associated with UAVs in the hands of less than reputable users.  However, most of the video illustrates the benefits that can be gained from responsible and appropriately regulated UAVs.

This video is of the beautiful principality of Monaco from UAVs:

 

Bad Press for UAVs over Christmas

Someone had posted an article on Facebook entitled: “Dads With Drones Are Ruining Christmas,” and it got me to thinking about a new post.  There were a few articles that I saw along these lines yesterday and while the rise in UAV availability is a sign of a strong market and lower cost for quality products, it has lowered the barriers to entry into this market.

I am an advocate for the use of UAV’s, but UAVs are getting a bad rap in the press from inexperienced users.   It is paradoxical that those who are trained and have a stake in using UAVs safely (commercial users) are the ones barred from using them, while inexperienced users can launch their UAV without any training.

I’d like to share the experiences of those using UAVs legally and safely to educate the public about the industry and their proper use.  Please send me links and I will share them.  Bad press will only slow the regulatory process, and the best way to counter bad press is to publicize the good side.

I recently posted about UAS America Fund’s proposed regulation to the FAA.  The FAA doesn’t appear that interested in publishing their own regulation anytime soon, and in my experience the only way a regulatory body will move is if the public encourages them to move forward.  I look forward to hearing from you.

 

 

Holiday Wrap-up

The past few days has been active in the world of UAVs, so here are a few thoughts before Christmas.
First of all, if you are a new UAV owner, check out this video, a Public Service Announcement from the FAA.  It also has a link to this website: Know Before You Fly.
 
The Washington Post published an article this week based on internal FAA communications.  There appears to be quite a rift within the agency regarding the path forward with UAVs.  Safety inspectors feel like they have been marginalized in the process, which they believe is bending to industry pressure to move forward.  The FAA hired a former movie industry lobbyist to advise on how to speed up the process, but it has only increased the tension between safety and policy personnel.  This was highlighted last week when one of the studios which received a 333 exemption had their drone crash, only to be found the next day in “rugged terrain” on private property.  Undoubtedly, safety inspectors who had advised that the studio’s plans were too dangerous but were overruled by policymakers feel vindicated. While the FAA is moving ahead with a comprehensive regulation, but the internal strife makes less likely that rule making will proceed expeditiously.
 
The FAA’s current trajectory has injured their reputation and ability to handle the UAVs swarming the market.  The Agency clearly lacks the resources necessary to handle the case load of exemption applications and also develop coherent rules for the industry. 
 
A major concern of safety inspectors, which was discussed at length during the House sub-committee hearings (see the Inaugural post) is that UAVs lack crash avoidance technology to comply with a fundamental principle of aviation safety – “see and avoid.”  While some UAVs have cameras, they do not have the inherent ability to detect and respond to situations in the same way as a human pilot.
 
While the FAA’s safety concerns are valid, UAVs are here to stay and an effective regulation has to be issued.  The flood of exemption requests cannot be dealt with by the agency.  
 
The UAS America Fund, a new organization styled as a Public-Private Partnership with its funding from private sources, has submitted a proposed regulation to the FAA for UAVs.  They have based their proposal on research, including some by the FAA.  Their plan is to compartmentalize the market and issue regulations piece-meal.  The proposed their first yesterday for the under 3 pound UAV market.  They also have a chart on their website that illustrates how they envision the market being broken down.
 
The proposed regulation is for what UAS America Fund calls the “micro-UAV” category.  This would include UAV’s under 3 pounds and the proposed regulation includes limits similar to that which exists for model airplanes.  Some notable differences would be that commercial users could operate under the proposed regulation and all operations would be limited to daylight hours.  Also, operators would require some amount of experience (5 hours flight time and 25 take-off/landings) before using their UAV for hire.  There are other details included in the regulation, but I hit the highlights.
 
I hope to add some meat to the analysis of the proposed regulation, but I wanted to hit this breaking news before the holiday.  

Potential New York City UAV Restrictions

On Wednesday, two New York City Councilmen proposed bills that would amend city ordinances regarding the use of UAV’s within the city.

Council Member Daniel Garodnick proposed a bill which would ban the use of UAV’s, except by police or one with an express authorization from the FAA.  Presumably this would exclude those using UAV’s for recreational purposes under the Model Aircraft guidance and express authorizations are hard to come by.  It would also limit the use by police to situations where they have a search warrant that identifies the time and location at which the UAV can be used to gather evidence.  Council Member Paul Vallone proposed a bill that is facially less extensive, but poses great risk to users.  It would ban the use of UAVs “within one-quarter mile of any open-air assembly, school, hospital or house of worship” (I have to guess that covers most of New York City), at night, if “weather conditions would impair the operator’s ability to do so safely,” and under various other circumstances.

These competing bills have not yet passed, but successful passage would bring New York City into a small group of municipalities that have passed bans.  These cities include Syracuse, NY; Charlottesville, VA; and St. Bonifatius, MN; with Berkeley, CA considering one as well.

The FAA has historically been the federal agency responsibly for governing the National Airspace, so it is uncertain whether these ordinances would survive a Supremacy Clause challenge.  Regardless, there are more traditional avenues local authorities can pursue against unsafe UAV users.  An Ohio man was charged with “disorderly conduct” and “misconduct at an emergency” for flying his UAV while a rescue helicopter was attending to an injured patient.  The charges were dropped, but only after he spent over $8,000 and attended a safety class.

Drones also pose personal safety concerns.  TGI Fridays recently received bad press after a photographer covering its “Mistletoe drone” was injured by the blades. Users are subject to traditional tort actions such as negligence, invasion of privacy, and trespass; should they use their UAV in those improper manners.

I said I am pro-UAV, and I am.  But these stories illustrate some of the hazards that abound in the UAV world:  local ordinances, traditional criminal prosecution, and civil tort liability.  And don’t forget the FAA, especially if you are trying to use your drone commercially! Please use your new UAV safely, it isn’t your everyday toy.

Inaugural Post

Welcome to my new blog: Droning On.  This blog ms dedicated to the emerging art of aerial photography, and the complexities involved in owning and operating a UAV in the United States.  I will touch on privacy and regulations from time to time, but the focus is primarily on photography.

I decided to start this blog after watching a House subcommittee hearing on UAVs and thinking about what the next step should be in my amateur photography experience.  Not surprisingly, the FAA is taking longer than expected to establish regulations for UAVs in the United States.  It has created what some call a “Wild West” in the skies.  Commercial use is prohibited without a license, but recreational users can use UAVs, subject to certain restrictions.  Unfortunately, the commercial users are generally better trained than their recreational counterparts.  Photographers can use their UAVs to take photos, but cannot do so legally if they are doing so for commercial purposes

I think UAVs are great – both for fun and business, but they need to be used responsibly.  If you are receiving or giving one for Christmas this year, please consider the legal requirements and respect the privacy and safety of others.

Here is an article I wrote recently regarding the hearing: FAA TESTIFIES TO CONGRESS: MORE UAS DELAYS.

A quick note about the banner:  I took the photo from a ferry in “Plum Gut,” a passage off of Long Island.  It was a beautiful sunset, but imagine the photo if I had a camera-equipped UAV!  I don’t have a UAV (yet!), so I don’t have any pictures to use from the air.  Hopefully that will change, but for now enjoy the sunset.