Drones: Responsibility vs. Regulation

By Kathleen Hickey

When discussing drones, one of the most common topics that comes up is regulation. I've found that a parallel conversation to regulation, is that of responsibility. If you're new to drones, or a pro, responsibility and regulation are both important and highly discussed. 

For someone thinking about buying a drone, or perhaps for someone that has just purchased one, the idea of various local, state, and federal flight regulations can be very overwhelming, and confusing. So what exactly is a regulation, and how does that differ from an actual law? Regulations are administrative codes and rules issued by various government agencies, like the FAA. Regulations are not laws, but they have the same force as laws. There are enforceable penalties for not following set regulations at any government level. Federal regulations are adopted through the Administrative Procedure Act (A.P.A.), with states having similar guidelines. Now that regulations have been defined, it's important to look at responsibility.

How much responsibility for safe flying and education falls on the government and regulatory agencies? Are flight rules and regulations easily accessible to the average consumer? Is there enough communication to the average public that these laws and regulations even exist? Is it easy for people to understand exactly what the rules are in their county, state, and on the federal level? 

On Monday October 19th, the Department of Transportation announced the creation of a task force that will make recommendations for a UAS, (Unmanned Aircraft Systems) registration process. The hope from the DOT is that registration will create more accountability, and responsibility for people that fly drones. The task force, which is comprised of representatives from the UAS industry, government, and other interested parties is expected to have their report completed by November 20th. Although many welcome and support safety and education for people that fly drones, it seems clear that the DOT is racing against the clock to prepare for the upcoming holidays, when it is estimated that over one million drones will be sold. At this point, it is not know if the registration process will provide resources, education, and tools for people to be safe flyers, or if it will be more heavy in regulation. 

As the government works to create a system to enforce safe flying, how much of the responsibility of education falls under the care of the manufactures? Drones have become increasingly accessible,  more affordable, and easier to use. Manufactures are marketing their drones to the masses. Should increased revenue come with increased responsibility? Some manufactures have links on their websites to Know Before You Fly or reference safe flying. DJI offers the New Pilot Experience, a free class though various authorized partners, which in part covers safe and responsible flying. What amount of obligation, if any, should private companies have in educating their buyers on safety, and regulations? Do consumers understand what they are buying, and what responsibilities come with their purchase if they are able to walk into a mall, or local big box store to but it?

Of course manufacturers can only do so much. As nice as it would be to have a personal one on one drone liaison with every purchase, it's not practical. When you purchase a car, the dealer does not go into length on local driving laws and proper safety. Links to websites, information about safety, classes, and manuals, only work if customers actually use them.  There is also something to be said for common sense, and courtesy for those around us. 

Over time, government, manufactures, and consumers will all take their place in safe and responsible drone ownership, and regulation. More information will be available after the task force has made their recommendations. Until then, for someone wanting to better understand flight regulations, the best resources are Know Before You Fly, as well as information from local and state government agencies. Before traveling, be sure to check local ordinances, and for possible no fly zones in the area you will be visiting to ensure a safe and worry-free adventure.   

Happy Flying!