As one of the first Commercial Drone Service Companies in the United States, Perfect Perspectives has had a front row seat to witness the blistering pace with which drone technology has evolved in just a few short years. When we began offering professional aerial drone services back in 2005, there were no drone-specific regulations, laws or ordinances in place anywhere in America. At that time, the term “drone” wasn’t even being used to describe what we were flying!
Fast forward to today, we now have well over one million registered drones in the United States alone. Include unregistered craft and that number balloons to a significantly larger figure.
Pretty much anyone who doesn’t now own a drone certainly knows someone who does. And as with everything else, if you have a million people doing something, some of them will be doing it very badly. These bad actors have forced bans on drones in areas such as parks, landmarks, prisons, critical infrastucture and of course near airports. In an interesting twist of legal hierarchy, owners of property can only restrict drones from taking off and landing on property they control due to something called “Federal Preemption”. What this means, in the simplest of terms is, only the FAA can enact laws controlling what/when/where something is allowed to fly in our National Airspace. This turns out to be a very good thing if consistency is something that is needed, and in this case it certainly is.
Bad Actors Drive Call For More Drone Restrictions
There has been no shortage of bad actors with drones feverishly exercising poor judgment and a general lack of consideration for anyone but themselves. These individuals have driven the desire by many to limit when/where/why drones are allowed to operate. The reasons for the desired limitations are many but fall into a few basic categories – general disturbance, safety & security and privacy.
General Disturbances Caused By Drones
General disturbances caused by drones often go hand-in-hand with privacy issues. Most often, as with National Parks for example, most people don’t want the annoyance of drones buzzing overhead spoiling their enjoyment of our nations most beautiful natural splendor, and who can blame them. Add on disturbing all the wildlife nearby for good measure and it makes perfect sense.
Safety & Security Issues Caused By Drones
Safety & security is a very different issue. It encompasses everything from endangering passenger aircraft operations to delivering contraband to prisons to crashing into unsuspecting individuals and property/vehicles on the ground. In these cases the problems created can be either due to carelessness and/or bad intentions.
Privacy Issues Caused By Drones
Lastly privacy issues stem from a reasonable expectation that normal people have that, like in Las Vegas, what they do behind their privacy fence stays within the privacy fence. Of course just about any photo taken by a drone can also be captured from a full size aircraft using a telephoto lens. The major difference from the privacy viewpoint however has to due with proximity and persistence. An airplane or helicopter flying by 1000 feet overhead doesn’t usually stay over your house for more than a moment or two.
Altercations With Commercial Drone Operators On The Increase
The privacy issue has steadily become a larger issue for licensed commercial drone operators. As an example, an increasing number of drone photographers filming real estate are reporting confrontations with adjacent property owners. It is very common to fly briefly over a neighbors house in order to get a good wide view of the property being listed. Nearby property owners are often surprised after assaulting the pilot or shooting the drone down that they have, in fact, broken several laws and are responsible for the damage to the drone.
Civilian Microdrones Will Disrupt The Current Logic Regarding Drone Laws And Restrictions
This brings me to the final point of why laws will not be able to keep up with drone technology advancements. It is inevitable that drones will only continue to get smaller while, at the same time, producing higher quality imaging. Case in point, micro drones the size of the Black Hornet, currently being used by ground troops across the globe, will soon be made available to the public. Being the size of a small bird or large insect will make them virtually undetectable in many cases. While this may be bad news for those who value their privacy it also brings up another very interesting point. At such a small size, many of the issues listed earlier as the basis to ban drone use start to become harder to justify with microdrones. Does a drone the size of an insect really cause a disturbance in a National Park or do any real damage if it has an mishap? The answer is a resounding NO and the current race to enact a host of even stricter laws and ordinances will be about as effective as telling people not to take photos with their smartphones. Failing to scale back bans for microdrones in National Parks and elsewhere won’t really matter as enforcement will be all but impossible. Food for thought.
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