New Drone Laws

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According to Bard College (who is keeping a running total of local drone laws) there are now over 130 local laws in place for drones across the nation. Almost every week there is a new law being proposed or a new law being enacted.

The most recent major drone regulation to go into effect is in San Diego. Due to its natural beauty, beaches and other tourist attractions San Diego has been a hot spot for drone activity and local authorities thought it was best to regulate drones use for safety issues. San Diego took a common sense approach and basically took existing FAA regulations on drones and made them part municipal code so police can fully enforce them.

This is in contrast to cities like Orlando, Florida that are adding extra lawyers of control to existing FAA regulations. For instance, even though the FAA has an official drone registry, the city of Orlando requires those who want to operate inside of its city limits to pay a fee and register with the city.

Then there is a proposed law from Toms River, New Jersey which would effectively ban drone flight below 400 feet. The city says it is doing this to limit aggressive real estate agents who have been using drone video to show off properties. The city also says it would still allow drone flight, but there needs to be consent from the owners of the property that is flown over. The real questions here is does Toms River even have the authority to ban flight below 400 feet?

Surprise! Drone Sales Double

A new report from the NPD Group reveals that drone sales more than doubled (up 117% to be exact) from February 2016 to February 2017. That’s a big jump, clearly showing the strength of consumers drones in the market. These sales numbers include the a wide variety of drones from $50 mini-drones (which are really just toys) to the $3,000 DJI Inspire 2.

Here are some useful tidbits from the NPD report:

  • During the holiday season drones with a price tag between $50- $100 saw a significant uptick in sales.
  • For drones in the $300-$500 price range, there is a clear consumer demand for premium features.
    • Drones with auto pilot capabilities sold nearly five times more quickly.
    • Drones that feature follow mode functionality sold 19x more quickly.
  • During the first two months of 2017…
    • Drones with a price tag over $300 drove 84% of dollar sales and nearly 40% of unit sales.
    • Drones sold for $1,000+ saw the highest rate of sales.

In roughly the same time period from January 2016 to January 2017 the number of drones registered with the FAA when up by 123%. And according to the numbers in the last two months over 100,000 more drones have been registered with the FAA.

FAA Hands Out Night Flight Approval to ND Police Unit

The FAA has given the Northeast Region Unmanned Aircraft Systems Unit (linked to the Grand Forks, North Dakota County Sheriff’s Office) permission to fly at night anywhere in the United States. According to Part 107 night flight is not allowed, unless a person/organization applies for a special exemption with the FAA. The Grand Forks Sheriff’s office applied for the exemption 6 months ago and was finally approved after repeated talks with the FAA

The Duluth New Tribune reported that the Northeast Region Unmanned Aircraft Systems Unit already had permission to fly in 18 counties in North Dakota and has built up night flying experience it wants to make available to other authorities throughout the nation.

The FAA has given other night flight exemptions, most notably to Intel for filming a per-taped drone formation flight for the Super Bowl.

If a person/organization is planning on drone use cases beyond the rules of Part 107, you need to apply for a special exemption with the FAA. Luckily, this process is much easier than the 333 exemption that was needed before Part 107 past. For more information please visit the FAA page on Part 107 exemptions.

Seattle Man Sentenced to Jail for 2015 Drone Crash

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Last Friday, a Seattle drone pilot was found guilty of reckless endangerment by the Seattle Municipal Court and sentenced to 30 days in jail. The pilot, who owns an aerial photography business, crashed a drone into the city’s Pride Parade in 2015. During the crash 2 people were injured and one woman was left unconscious.

The Verge reported that two drone experts Arthur Holland Michael, co-director of the Center for the Study of the Drone and Tom McMahon, vice president of Advocacy and Public Affairs at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International do not believe that there is any precedent of a drone pilot receiving jail time for a drone related incident. Although drone pilots have been arrested and fined.

While the FAA has administrative regulations regarding the operations of drones, many municipalities are moving to create local regulations that will give local authorities more ability to act against those that use drones ‘illegally’. The City of San Diego is currently considering such local laws and this week the State of South Dakota is considering a new law that would make certain drone operations illegal (like flying over prisons).

While local laws might seem sensible, they run the risk of creating patchwork regulations throughout America—something the FAA is actually against.

In the “State and Local Regulation of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Fact Sheet” written by the Federal Aviation Administration Office of the Chief Counsel in December of 2015 it states: “Substantial air safety issues are raised when state or local governments attempt to regulate the operation or flight of aircraft. If one or two municipalities enacted ordinances regulating UAS in the navigable airspace and a significant number of municipalities followed suit, fractionalized control of the navigable airspace could result. In turn, this ‘patchwork quilt’ of differing restrictions could severely limit the flexibility of FAA in controlling the airspace and flight patterns, and ensuring safety and an efficient air traffic flow. A navigable airspace free from inconsistent state and local restrictions is essential to the maintenance of a safe and sound air transportation system.”

Increasing Number of Drones Cause Issues for Airports

Every week there are news stories about near collisions of planes (usually coming in to land) and drones. A few days ago there was a near miss as a plane from Paris came in to land at Dulles Airport in Virginia. In that case the drone came within 100 feet of colliding with the plane.

Also this week, the Minister of Defense in Taiwan said the security officers can shoot down any drones that are found violating airspace above airports in response to the growing number of unauthorized drones incursions.

In the USA, the FAA reports that in 2016 there was a 50% increase of pilots spotting drones compared to the year before. The reason is simple, there is a lot more drones out there. FAA estimates that 4.8 million drones will be sold in 2017 (2.3 million consumer and 2.5 million commercial). This works out for 21% growth in sales of consumer drones and a 317% growth in commercial drones.

But the problem just isn’t the increase of drones, it is also a problem with drone operators. Some are not careful and do not consider airspace restrictions of the areas they are flying in. If you are new drone owner, please put safety first. Here is a great website to start at.

One Permission and One Ban

In the last few days the FAA has made two interesting decisions regarding drone operations. On January 10th it gave permission to drone manufacturer 3DR to fly drones in the ‘Class B’ airspace (where drones are usually completely restricted from flying in) around Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. This is the first time the FAA has given an exemption to a drone to be flown in the restricted airspace around a major airport. At the Atlanta airport 3DR is using drones to survey a parking structure that is scheduled to be demolished.

Then this week the FAA issued a temporary flight in a 34.5 mile radius around NRG Stadium in downtown Houston where the Super Bowl will be played this Sunday. The ban makes sense near the stadium, but 34.5 miles seems a bit excessive and there are questions exactly how drone owners can be aware of the ban on such short notice, or show strictly the ban will be enforced.

Both of these actions by the FAA show an important thing, that the FAA is being nimble in how they react to the use of drones. The team here at Drone Dossier feels this is a good development for the future of drones. The FAA has been cautious but it is actively trying its best to adapt its regulations to the realities of how drones are going to be used in everyday situations.

Drone Collides with Passenger Jet In Mozambique

Multiple news outlets around the world are reporting that a Boeing 737 with over 80 people on-board collided into a drone on approach to the runway in Tete, Mozambique.

Thankfully, no one was injured but the nose of the plane took significant damage as evident from the pictures above. An FAA study early this year, showed that medium and large-sized drones represent a risk to planes. Unlike birds, drones are made of much harder material like carbon fiber that at high speed can penetrate the air frame of commercial airliners or seriously damage jet engines.

Over the last year there has been many reported near hits, but this collision in Mozambique serves as a reminder of safely integrating drones into the airspace worldwide.