Australia Catches Environmental Violators with Drones

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The Australian Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is now using drones to clean up the environment. In particular, they are aiming at surveying landfills to see if their operations are environmentally safe. The idea appears to be working as EPA authorities in the State of Victoria recently used a drone to find out a landfill was operating in breach of its license.

According to the report, drone surveillance of a B.T.Q. Group landfill found “extensive areas of exposed waste”, even though the group’s license requires them to put at least 30 cm of soil on exposed soil every day. Based on the drone-collected evidence, the Australian EPA fined the landfill 7,000 Australian dollars.

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Australian authorities aren’t the only ones using drones to enforce laws and regulations. Police in the UAE city of Ajman use drones to catch traffic violators and monitor the structural integrity of roads. The drones are equipped with infrared sensors and cameras capable of reading license plates from the air. From March to December of 2016, drones recorded over 2,000 violations in the roads around Ajman. The police say that the use of drones has helped to clear up traffic problems in the city.

Police in the Indian city of Pun are also doing the same thing. Over one week in August, 2016, Pun police used live drone footage to catch and fine 15 traffic violators on the Pun to Mumbai expressway.

Orlando Gives a Cold Shoulder to Drones

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The city of Orlando, Florida has just passed new rules regulating the use of drones in the city that don’t exactly roll out the red carpet.

According to local TV Station WESH, the new regulations introduce drone permit fees that start at $20 per event, or $150 per year, and fines of between $200 and $400 for violators. Additionally, those that operate drones under the influence of alcohol or drugs could be arrested.

Like other cities with drone regulations, Orlando will also restrict drones from flying near events or venues with large amount of people and public parks. However, one issue pointed out about the new regulations is that they don’t address the size of the drone, and instead treat them all the same in the framework of the regulations.

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer says the city is nor anti-drone and will not regulate drones on private property or backyards. In all fairness to the city of Orlando, we will have to see how they actually enforce these new regulations.

23,000 Newly Registered Drone Pilots

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Since the FAA passed its new Part 107 regulations (which require all those who use a drone for commercial use to pass a test to become a registered drone pilot) nearly 23,000 have become licensed drone pilots.

According to numbers from the FAA from the end of August till the middle of December 28,000 people applied to become licensed drone pilots and 22,959 passed. That is a passing rate of 82%, which seems very high. For comparison in September of 2015 the State of California Deportment of Motor Vehicles administered 243,000 knowledge tests for road driving and only had a pass rate of 45%.

In order to become a licensed pilot all one has to do is study and take a test and a local test center, but don’t forget to register your drone as well.

The lowdown on FAA 333 exemptions

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It’s tax day so it is easy to understand regulations from government agencies never tend to be very clear or set in stone. Unfortunately, the FAA guidelines on drone usage in US airspace suffer from the same problem.

What is the 333?

According to the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, the FAA will eventually have to find a way to incorporate drones into the national airspace. But currently, the FAA only has draft rules about the usage of small drones (smalll Unmanned Aerial Systems—sUAS) and therefore in section 333 of the above act created a stopgap to allow sUAS operations until the official regulations are finalized. This is how the 333 exemption was born and this is what allows civil businesses and individuals the right to use drones from commercial purposes before final rules are in place.

Getting and using the 333

True to government form you have to fill out stacks of paper work and go through review period, which in total can take months (although it is getting faster). But after you have an exemption it doesn’t mean you can use your drones willy-nilly, instead you need yet another document, the Certificate of Authorization (COA). Luckily the FAA realized the madness of this and on March 23rd decided to, “automatically grant a “blanket” COA for flights at or below 200 feet to any UAS operator with a Section 333 exemption, provided the aircraft weighs less than 55 pounds, operations are conducted during daytime Visual Flight Rules (VFR) conditions and within visual line of sight (VLOS) of the pilots, and stay certain distances away from airports or heliports.” If you want to fly outside this blanket zone then you have to apply for a separate COA for the air space of operation.

Remember, that these are only stopgap measures and eventually they were be replaced, so applying for a 333 exemption and a possible additional COA must be carefully evaluated.

Who has a 333?

As of the April 9, 2015 the FAA has issued 137 exemptions to businesses and individuals (some of those 137 are amended filings). The full list is publicly available from the FAA and is updated once new exemptions are granted, so check back often to see the latest developments. On the list, the FAA defines operation/mission category for the business or individual that have received the exemption. This is an interesting way to see how the drone industry is taking off.

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List of FAA 333 exemptions

From our own quick analysis nearly half of 333 exemption are granted for some form of aerial photography or filming (whether it be real estate photos, filming for movies, etc). The next biggest category is using drones for inspecting a variety of things like bridges, cell towers and wind turbines. Inspections account for nearly twenty percent exemptions so far. Not far behind is exemptions for precision agricultural which take up just over fifteen percent. The top five are rounded out by oil and gas companies and aerial surveying and mapping which both account of around thirteen percent of 333 exemptions.