Monday, December 01, 2014

FAA drone rules will hamper rural operators; reports of unsafe drone use on the rise

When the Federal Aviation Administration releases its proposed rules for drone use, rural pilots will be facing a long, arduous road to be able to fly legally fly, Jordan Golson reports for Wired. The rules, expected by the end of the year, "will apply to drones under 55 pounds, limit flights to daytime hours, under 400 feet, and within the pilot’s line of sight. They would also require all drone operators to acquire a pilot’s license from the FAA. Not a special, drone-focused license, but the kind you need to actually get in a plane and fly it."

"In more rural areas, however, there simply aren’t that many things to fly into," Golson writes. "Apart from town centers and highways, most of the middle of the country is filled up with wide open spaces. That makes the onerous process of getting a license—including dozens of hours of work with an expensive flight instructor, a medical examination and lots of classroom time—seem less necessary when the only things you might hit are cows and stalks of corn."

"The 400-foot ceiling and line of sight requirements are also impractical for many possible drone uses in rural areas," Golson writes. "For example, electric utilities routinely use helicopters to inspect their long-haul high-voltage power lines, to check they’re in working order and make sure trees haven’t grown too close to them. Farmers could use the unmanned aircraft to inspect crops, and ranchers could keep an eye on their herds—over thousands of acres. This is the kind of work drones are perfect for, but only if they can fly over long distances and far above the 200-foot towers."  

With no rules currently in place and drones readily for sale, the friendly skies are turning chaotic, as more and more reports of unsafe flying keep coming in, Nick Wingfield reports for The New York Times. "In recent months, drone pilots have tried to smuggle contraband into prisons and disrupt sporting events at stadiums. Animal rights groups have turned to drones to stalk hunters as the hunters stalk wildlife. And in France, more than a dozen illegal flights over nuclear power plants have unnerved the authorities."

"The antics are forcing public safety officials to look at the air above them, generally thought safe and secure, as a place for potential trouble," Wingfield writes. "And for groups pushing drones as legitimate business tools, the high jinks are an unexpected and unwelcome headache—one, they fear, that will bolster a push by regulators to keep a tight leash on the machines."

Patrick Egan, a consultant on commercial drone projects and editor at sUAS News, a drone news site, told Wingfield, “It’s now in the hands of all types of people—good people, bad people, tricksters, pranksters, kids. All hell is going to break loose as far as the shenanigans that are perpetrated with drones.” (Read more)

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