Last year, drone operators across the US were concerned when word began to surface that the FAA was expected to impose strict oversight, regulations, and guidelines specific to the operation of small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), or drones as they are commonly referred to.
Drones are used in a variety of applications from your casual drone enthusiasts, commercial applications like surveying and security, to academic research and especially the entertainment industries. While rules pertaining to drone operation for the most part don’t apply to most instances of hobby-use or the operation of drones on private property, the looming FAA ruling towards drone regulation has been a deterrent for many looking to acquire or explore all that drones have to offer. This, of course, includes myself. Last year, articles published by reputable news sources such as CNN Money and The Wall Street Journal suggested that our friends on Capitol Hill were gearing up to deliver a a hefty set of rules that would raise the barrier of entry for even the casual drone enthusiast. One article claimed that operators may even need to acquire a pilots license to operate a UAS legally, a ruling that could effectively cripple any small business interested in exploring drone technology as a means to deliver better products or services to their clients.
Drones: The Hot Topic at NAB 2015
Needless to say, drones were on everyone’s minds at this years NAB conference in Las Vegas. For the first time, the convention space had a dedicated area called the “Aerial Robotics and Drone Pavilion”. Various speakers from the journalism and broadcast industries shared their insights on the topic and there were demonstrations in a large enclosed “aerial arena” where product and safety demonstrations were presented daily. The conundrum of how to handle the red tape on the subject was discussed as well.
On February 15 of this year, the FAA released a 195 page document outlining its proposal for regulations concerning the drone community which surprisingly, at least in its current form, seems to have less restrictions and oversight as previously suggested. If you’re interested in reading the entire proposal, you can find it on the FAA.gov website. The hot points of this proposal were presented to curious professionals and enthusiasts alike.
According to the proposal, “This rulemaking proposes operating requirements to allow small unmanned aircraft systems (small UAS) to operate for non-hobby or non-recreational purposes. A small UAS consists of a small unmanned aircraft (which, as defined by statute, is an unmanned aircraft weighing less than 55 pounds ) and the equipment necessary for the safe and efficient operation of that aircraft. The FAA has accommodated non-recreational small UAS use through various mechanisms, such as special airworthiness certificates, exemptions, and certificates of waiver or authorization (COA).”
So what does this mean for us regular folk? While the 195 page document is full of lots of important technical jargon, here are a few of the big takeaways:
– Your drone has to be less than 55 lbs.
– Visual line-of-sight (VLOS) of the operator or visual observer is required.
– Small unmanned aircraft may not operate over any persons not directly involved in the operation.
– Daylight-only operations (official sunrise to official sunset, local time).
– Maximum airspeed of 100 mph.
– Maximum altitude of 500 feet above ground level.
– Must take an “aeronautical knowledge” test every two years.
– Must be over 17 years old.
That second point about “visual line of sight” has some future drone owner/operators in a tizzy as it effectively excludes them from gaining any useful benefits from the FAA’s proposal. For instance, any drones relying on a complex set of GPS coordinates instead of a human operator for survey applications, for example, where geography such as hills or forest could obstruct operator eyeballs, are perhaps out of luck. Luckily, lobbyists are spending more than ever this year (in the tens of millions of dollars) to get their way, so who knows what may happen. Or you could opt to get a “certificate of waiver” or apply to be exempt from these regulations by applying on the FAA website. Most of us will just have keep ours eyes in the sky as we fly.
The Consumer Drone Industry
A CES press release published in November of 2014 states, “According to CEA research, the global market for consumer drones will approach $130 million in revenue in 2015, increasing by 55 percent from 2014, with unit sales of consumer drones expected to reach 400,000. The revenue from drone sales is expected to easily exceed $1 billion in just five years.”
New drone products are popping up all the time and accessories are springing up by third party manufacturers at a rapid pace. For the nerds out there, just last November, DJI, a drone manufacturer that caters to aerial video and photography, released their SDK for a few of their models, allowing developers to customize the software used to control their drones. In May, Lily hit the market, a consumer drone that looks to simplify the entire process and remove the need for a skilled operator, instead of letting the aircraft take off, land, and fly itself autonomously. It looks like these types of products will revolutionize our capture options. Remember that little camera called the GoPro?
Untold has worked with some really talented drone operators on a few of our projects now. Personally, I can’t wait to try flying my first drone but I know that it will take lots of time and practice. Have you tried your hand at aerial photography or video? If so, leave a comment below!