As of August 29, 2016 the FAA's rules for commercial use of small Unmanned Aerial Systems (sUAS), also known as Part 107, have been in effect. These rules govern how high we can fly, areas that we can not fly, steps we have to follow if we are within 5 miles of an airport, etc. To qualify to receive a Part 107 Remote Pilot Certificate, a person must pass an aeronautical knowledge test that covers everything from safe practices, weather systems, sectional charts and much more. Once a person has passed this test, they eventually receive an identification card that proves they are a licensed commercial remote pilot in the United States and can therefore conduct a business that involves the flying of drones. If you are about to hire someone, please make sure that they have a card that looks like this copy of mine, shown below. Prior to receiving this card, pilots are issued a temporary paper ID that also allows them to fly commerically.
UPDATE: Every two years, all sUAS Remote Pilots must take a "recurrent knowledge test" (RKT) that certifies us for another two year period. On September 12, 2018 I successfully passed my RKT and deemed to be re-certified.
WHAT ARE THE RULES?
If you are curious what the actual rules are that licensed commercial pilots fly under, you can find an example of those here.
WHAT ABOUT LOCAL & STATE RULES?
In the state of Texas, where WhirlyBird Aerial Services is located, there are a few rules that we must adhere to when taking images. The main focal point of the Texas laws basically say that as long as we are not intentionally "conducting surveillance" of a person or their property, then we are good to go. There are a few other laws that were passed recently that involve not flying around any critical infrastructure areas, or prisons. All of those laws are under Texas Government Code, Chapter 423: Use of Unmanned Aircraft.
There have been several states around the country who have started passing, or attempting to pass their own rules, some of them trying to govern the airspace, etc. Most of these attempts, if they are ever challenged in court will be deemed illegal. The FAA has sole jurisdiction over the airspace in the USA. More on that, and how states need to cautiously approach trying to regulate drone usage can be found here.
I'M GOING TO SHOOT DOWN YOUR DRONE!!
Hold on there, pardner! Before you go yanking out your firearm and deciding you're going to shoot down someone's drone because you think it is violating your privacy, or that the pilot is taking photos of you or your property...I'd like you to think about a couple of things. Things that will educate you, and hopefully keep you out of trouble.
1. It is a federal crime to shoot a drone. Yes...you read that right. According to the FAA, the NTSB and the Dept. of Transportation, a drone meets the definition of what an aircraft is. That is why the FAA has control over the licensing and registration of drones. In U.S. Code Title 18, Part 1, Chapter 2, § 32 it specifies that willfully damaging an aircraft can cause you to "be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years, or both." Even just threatening to shoot at or otherwise damage an aircraft could cause you to be "fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both." So, please...if you're feeling like you're being harassed, spied upon or otherwise annoyed with someone who is flying their drone...do the smart thing and call the police. Don't try to take the law into your own hands and then end up in jail for your troubles.
2. The second point I'd like to make deals with the "privacy" issue that so many people are concerned about. First of all, if you see a drone a couple hundred feet above your house, whether it is flying by or just hovering...chances are very good that they aren't looking your way. The pilot is probably taking a photograph of something in the distance. Also, even if the camera was pointed straight at you, the pilot would barely be able to make out if you were male or female. Very few of the drones out these days have a camera on them that can zoom in and out. The ones that do carry cameras like that, are not generally going to be flying around neighborhoods. And quite honestly, 99.9% of us have no desire to spy on anyone.
The other point about privacy I hope you will hear, is that you basically don't have any legal right to privacy outside of your home. Your neighbor could be on their 2nd floor balcony taking photos of you in your backyard, and legally you'd have no recourse. Yes, that is creepy and shouldn't be done...but it's not illegal. Do you have any idea how many times someone in a plane or helicopter, not to mention Google satellites, have flown over your home and taken photographs? As I mentioned above, if you feel like your privacy is being invaded, call the police, take a photo of the drone if you can. You are in much more danger of being spied upon by someone across the street with a big telephoto lens on their camera.
3. Talk to us! If you see someone flying a drone in a park or out in their front yard, I would encourage you to go talk to them. They may ask you to wait until they land the drone, so they can concentrate on what they're doing...but most of us don't mind talking to folks about what we do. I have been approached numerous times while flying in Austin and I am more than happy to show people just what we can, and can't, really see with our drones. I've even taken pictures of them standing with me and I'll happily send them the photo. I would much rather be able to educate folks on what I do, and how I do it, than for there to be any misgivings or hurt feelings about it.
If you'd like to watch a video (just one of many I found on YouTube) that will show you exactly what you can, and even more importantly, what you can NOT see at various altitudes....check it out here.
I hope we have a chance to meet someday. If you have any questions on any of this, please feel free to contact me by clicking HERE. I WILL get back to you.
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