Technology has evolved at an unprecedented rate. It has opened the world to an entirely new degree of connectivity, brought highly-capable super computers into our pockets, and provided solutions for problems that we couldn’t otherwise solve. Drones are a model example of just how quickly a certain branch of tech can skyrocket.
What was once a technology exclusive to the military is now a downscaled product affordable to the general public. For $1000 (or a lot less) you can own an aerial vehicle that flies autonomously, live-stream the first person view of the onboard camera, and supports a decent payload. But as with all gadgets, once they evolve, ethical, moral, and safety concerns follow.
Being that drones are heavy vehicles that fly overhead, provide real-time footage, and can disrupt airspace, it’s paramount that pilots acknowledge the responsibility they share in being part of the drone community. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has yet to lay down the hammer and tenaciously regulate the industry. By operating safely, pilots as a whole protect not only their own communities but their freedom to continue their hobby or trade.
What exactly entails ‘drone safety’?
Drone safety is ensuring that you’re piloting your drone in a way that accords with government regulations and keeps people out of any form of physical or personal risk. It’s ensuring that you’re operating legally and there is zero chance a mishap or dangerous flight could ever put someone in danger; by danger we mean from physical harm or an invasion of privacy.
A little under two years ago the FAA dropped a new set of rules for small unmanned aircraft systems (their title for drones). Some six months later they followed up with Part 107, a revised and expanded set of rules, regulations, and guidelines for the operation of drones. Part 107 now dictates the standard form of drone operation. If you’re unfamiliar with these regulations, well first, you should not be piloting, and two, they’re as easy to find as a quick ‘FAA Drone Regulation’ Google search.
Register Your Drone
If your drone weighs somewhere from .55-55lbs then it’s a mandate that you register it. The FAA has made this process simple, with an easy-to-use UI that allows you to register your drone within minutes. It costs a whopping total of $5 for your entire arsenal of drones.
Follow the guidelines set by Part 107
While acquiring a drone is as easy as a couple clicks on Amazon, the operation of one is not synonymous to that simplicity. For recreational users and commercial users alike, these are some of the guidelines set about by the FAA. Most of these should be basic commonsense. A few guidelines are as follows:
- Know your community-based safety guidelines and follow them
- You can’t fly higher than 400 feet, no matter the altitude capacity of your vehicle
- You must keep your drone with line-of-sight at all times
- Keep clear of any manned aircraft operations and avoid any sort of aircraft or obstacle within the same airspace
- Never fly over moving vehicles or people and remain 25 feet from any structure, person(s), or damageable infrastructure and property
- If you’re going to fly within 5 miles of an airport, you need to contact the control tower ahead of time and let them know when you’ll be operating
- Don’t fly your drone in extreme or debilitating weather conditions, despite whether or not your machine has the capacity to do so
- Do not pilot your drone under the influence of drugs or alcohol
- Assess the environment for safety concerns before operating and ensure the pilot is capable of flying said drone properly
- Do not fly over infrastructure. Period. That means no power stations, water facilitations, correctional facilities, roadways (especially highways), government facilities, etc
- Study local laws when it comes to flying in the proximity of or over private property
- Do not pilot your drone in a situation where you could be invading someone’s privacy without their consent
- Don’t fly after dark, as visual impairment can cause accidents
- It is illegal to fly in national parks unless being otherwise permitted to do so
While these guidelines are meant to be the groundwork for the safe operation of your drone, most of it boils down to being responsible. These are aerial vehicles that can weigh up to 55lbs. If you’re flying unsafely and happen to be overhead an innocent bystander and a technical problem occurs with your machine, that heavy of an object plummeting from the sky (not to mention the propeller blades) can cause serious injury.
Our point being: a huge part of flying safely is by using your noggin. If you think what you’re doing might be a breach of privacy or could put a person at risk, then chances are it’s not a safe operation. Plain and simple. Avoid situations where you’re unsure of safety hazards and never fly in an airspace you’re certain is illegal.
You will need to study for the Part 107 test. Make sure that you are prepared to ace it so you can take your next steps in becoming a drone pilot. There is a Part 107 study guide, that you can check out, to help you prepare for the exam.
Another huge aspect to flying drones safely is airspace. Finding a legal place to fly isn’t exactly a walk in the park. Being that so many different regions have different regulations, establishing where it is legal or illegal to fly can prove difficult. Thankfully, companies have risen to the occasion and solved this problem. There are now applications readily available which help dictate legal airspace.
One such organization is appropriately the FAA. They recently released an app cleverly named ‘B4UFLY’ which integrates an all-inclusive map and their very own aeronautical data. The app’s sole purpose is to ‘help unmanned aircraft operators determine whether there are any restrictions or requirements in effect at the location where they want to fly.’
While there have been complaints about the UI and the technology’s overall functionality, it’s a step in the right direction for ensuring safe drone operation. Also, in an attempt to maximize usage and awareness, the FAA has made this application free.
If you follow the above guidelines then there is no reason for you to ever take part in an unsafe drone operation. Flying a drone safely is predominantly about conducting the proper research, adhering to government regulations, and having commonsense. The safer you are about your operations, the higher the shield is raised in front of your hobby or trade, and the better you serve your community. Fly safe everyone!
By Wesley Flippo of Spire Drones
September 29, 2017