Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Drone Rules

The government once again is setting limits on technology, but again they are so far behind the curve and push the policy of fear, rather then rational legislation.

The FAA announced the plan to limit drones to a top flight cap of 500 Feet and line of sight.  Most people do not have a concept of 500 feet, so lets first give examples.

An American football field is 100 Yards or 300 Feet, so 500 Feet is stacking a football field and two thirds of another on top. The Statue of Liberty is 305 feet, The Washington Monument is 555 feet, The Gateway Arch is a 630 feet, and 500 feet is the equal of a 50 story building.

Now we have a concept of how high 500 feet is, we need to look at why and if we need the new regulations and if this is truly a new concept.

Actual drones use first came into public awareness as most innovations in technology, from military usage. Using small automated bugs for surveillance has been part of science fiction for a long time and the concept and skill in using them has been trained in a multitude of video games. After all some games offer remote operation of flying machines in a virtual setting, a flight simulator of a sort.

Now the FAA is trying to set limits after a usual knee jerk reaction to new technology after the first issues have happened. in September 2013, a small quadrocopter flew within feet of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere, hovering briefly in front of them before crashing into the stage practically at Merkel’s feet.

The White House had an incident that prompted the FAA movement when a Drone crashed on the White House grounds, what has been almost hushed is the crash landing in an area with a total flight ban, was undertaken by a white house staffer.

Is this type of regulation new? No.. in fact we already have a similar regulation for both Moored balloons and kites. FAA regulation PART 101, and the drone rules are quite similar. They both have a 500 feet in the regulation but where drones are being given an operational area of 500 feet, balloons and kites have no restrictions or licensing requirement and after 500 feet require a rapid deflation device.

Moored balloons require and kites above 150 feet must be reported to the FAA, height and duration of use. For high flights on the tether lighting or visible flags every 50 feet.

What differs is the fixed ceiling of 500 feet. In FAA Rule 101 it makes allowances for tall structures. The intent is to keep drones out of flight paths and 101 includes this exception…

“this section does not apply to the operation of a balloon or kite below the top of any structure and within 250 feet of it, if that shielded operation does not obscure any lighting on the structure.”

In Philadelphia alone, there are 10 buildings that are above 500 feet, the highest is 975 feet. This means a drone can only fly 1/2 way up the building that all air traffic avoids anyway. it would seem prudent to allow at minimum the top of the structure and he 250 feet surrounding it.

Line of sight is also silly if your drone is a camera drone. I do not think people who are directing camera operations are safe to split between watching a camera feed for drone use and visually searching the sky. line of sight should only come into play if the drone is not a camera/video drone.

The FAA wants to license drone operators and the only reason for that is revenue and the issue of how to deal with ariel observation of events like public demonstrations where in the past police have limited access, drones allow access and with recent video use it is a tool for Media as well as public monitoring. Find a place in Baltimore or London where there is not an overhead camera watching 24/7.

The fear of a drone being used to carry explosives or a gun are real, but a law will not prevent illegal use. The only reasonable measure is to have electronic countermeasures to take control of the drone. Aerosol can be dispersed by a balloons  and unless we plan to ban and regulate birthdays we will be exposed.

Last is a ban on nighttime use. I believe night use should be allowed but require lighting on the drone during all night operation. Public Drones should be mandated and painted to be visible and obvious, they should be mandated to have night operational lights.


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2 Responses

  1. The Federal Aviation Administration finally revealed on Tuesday its much-anticipated ruling for how businesses can use drones for inspecting power lines, filming movie scenes, and taking photos of farmland.

    • Admin says:

      The issue is less what they are ruling, but how they react in making rules based on a fear of what a product can be used for.
      People can use a camera to spy, but I don’t see legislation on banning or regulating camera use. Drones offer a new and expansive use for photography both amateur and professional and a way for homeowners and journalists a way to get access to a location without getting in harms way.

      The fear was the use of drones in a malicious way. Though reasonable, it also restricts the public’s use of drones in a similar way as police body cameras. After the drone landed on the platform with Angela Merkel during a campaign event, there was a sudden panic because there was no easy way, or appeared to be, to control access and stop a drone. No fly zones from a small object launched from blocks away gave almost no responce time and shooting it down would scatter wreckage and if it had chemicals on it, provide dispersal. It took the Dutch police to come up with a reasonable way to deal with drones… Trained birds.

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