Dear Holiday Drone Shoppers...

By Kathleen Hickey

In a snap and a flash, it's over. Thanksgiving has come and gone, and takes with it - Black Friday. Many shops and websites had some amazing deals on drones. Did you take advantage of it? Do you wish you had? Do you think you bought that special someone the drone of their dreams? Did you buy yourself a drone of your dreams? Are you waiting for Cyber Monday? Here are a few things you should know before you give give the gift of a drone, to yourself, or someone you love.  

And I know that it's a lot to go through, and there's not a good amount of falala in rules, but if you or someone you know would like to take on the responsibility of owning a drone, it's important stuff to read through. 

Nothing Says Happy Holidays Like Regulations

It is estimated that a million drones will be sold this holiday season. Regulation can be a scary word. So can National Airspace, and Federal. And you know what, it should make a person stop and think a little. As much as some people would like to consider drones a toy, most of them are not. Drones are tools. They are very fun, addictive, useful, and can create beautiful images, and let the pilot explore a new perspective, but they can also be dangerous if not used correctly, or under the right circumstances. 

On November 21st, the FAA released the findings of a special UAS (Unmanned Aircraft System) Registration Task Force. The Task Force was comprised of various members from 27 companies and organizations that ranged from DJI, to the Consumer Technology Association, and the American Association of Airport Executives. The group was given three days to come up with suggested registration requirements for drones. Here's a breakdown of some of their suggestions:

  • UAS that weigh under 55 pounds (55 lbs and over already require registration), and above 250 grams (8.82 oz) will require registration.
  • Registration is not required at point of sale, because the operator of the UAS in the National Airspace System (NAS) is the responsible party to register.
  • Citizenship is not required for registration, and the minimum age to register is 13, (although many drones have a suggested age for use, so always check before purchasing a drone for a minor).  
  • They suggest registration should be free, but in the case a fee is required, they suggest that it's a penny. 
  • Registration can be done online, and DOES NOT require an outside company to process. There are companies already trying to take money from people to "help" with registration of drones. That is not needed. 
  • Operator will have to show proof of registration when asked (I imagine like a fishing licence). 

These are recommendations, and while it's fairly certain that the FAA will put a system of registration in place, The firm details have not yet been provided. If you'd like to read the full summary, you can do so here. There is a summary at the end, so if the drone talk has you scratching your head, you can check the last two pages. The FAA has also come out with a Safety Checklist so if you're giving a drone as a gift, it would be a great idea to print it out, and include it in your card. 

Safety First

Once you put your drone in the air, you are part of the U.S. aviation system. You are considered a pilot, and your drone is an aircraft. There are very strict and harsh penalties for not following flight laws. Not sure what those rules are? Take a look at Know Before You Fly, for safety guidelines. 

Now, have you may have seen some really cool things done with drones. Like maybe...

  • Flying at night.
  • Flying over animals (especially endangered ones).
  • Flying over groups of people.
  • Flying around power lines, airports, stadiums, freeways, and other heavily populated areas.
  • Pools, and beaches, and backyards with people getting some sun.

DO NOT DO ANY OF THESE THINGS!

What you may see from other drone operators, and what you can actually do are two separate things. Some drone operators have exemptions, and have asked special permission to take various shots. Some have contacted local authorities, as well as airports, so they can fly in what normally is a no fly zone. At times, a special group may ask a drone operator to assist in researching groups of animals. Different countries also have different flight laws. And some people are just breaking the rules. If you see something on Instagram or Twitter, it's not a green light to do the same. 

There are various tools to help pilots determine if they are in a no fly zone. Some drones have indicators that will let you know if you are not in an area that you can fly in. There are also Apps that indicate no fly zones. 

There are also temporary no fly zones, for special events, and times you should not fly due to bad weather conditions. It's also important to read the owners manual for your particular drone, and follow the manufactures pre flight instructions, and checklists. 

You Can't Always Take It Back

Drones are expensive. There's not just the initial cost, but everything else you have to buy to go with it. Make sure you fully understand the return policy, and warranty from the retailer you are buying your drone from. It's also important to note that it's possible to have an accident or crash, which is usually not covered by retailers. 

It's also important to note that there have been many thefts of drones from retailers, and not just one drone, but thousands of dollars worth. If you see a drone on Craigslist or Amazon, and the price just seems too good to be true, it probably is. Always purchase your drone from an authorized retailer. It will also guarantee that you will receive the help you need if any issues come up. 

Last But Not Least

Have fun! Have some good - responsible - safe - regulation compliant - non alcoholic - Know Before You Fly Fun. 

If anyone is a "good-time" person, I am. But I want to make sure anyone buying a drone is aware of the responsibility, and neighborly etiquette, before flying. The drone community is always happy to help anyone that wants to learn how to do it right.  Please join all of the responsible pilots, and be a good example. And as always...

Happy Flying