Sky’s the Limit Pt. 2: Safe Flying
It’s no longer the wild west when it comes to which drones you can fly and where you can fly them. In part two of our series on the future of drones in our area, we tackle how to safely, and legally, take up aerial photography.
Drone popularity is skyrocketing, and that presents challenges. So-called “small” drones can weigh as much as five pounds. Outdoor drones can legally fly at 100mph. If that slams into something or someone, it can do a lot of damage. With more and more people and organizations using drones, the Federal Aviation Administration has developed a way to let people fly them while reducing the risk of an accident.
Two Kinds of Flying
The FAA split drone flying into two main categories – recreational, and commercial. If you plan to make money flying your drone, you need to be commercially certificated.
Recreational fliers need to register their drone with the FAA, and follow a specific set of rules. But unlike commercial fliers, they don’t have to pass a test in order to earn the certificate that makes their flights legal.
The commercial test covers a wide variety of topics. Those include flying rules, flight physics, emergency procedures, proper decision making, and even knowledge of meteorology.
Know the Rules
Whether you fly commercially or just for fun, you’re expected to understand how to fly safely, and where you can and can’t fly. For instance, flights within 5 miles of an airport require notification, and often permission. Flying over national parks, such as parts of the Mississippi River, are illegal without permission from the Parks Service.
And even if you have permission from all the necessary federal agencies, you still need to find out if local governments have restricted where you can fly – many cities and counties have strict rules on where you can and can’t fly.
It all seems daunting at first, but insiders say it’s necessary. That’s because there have been several near-misses involving drones and aircraft, or drones and people on the ground.
“In an airplane, if you hit it in the fuselage you could damage body parts. You could penetrate the skin,” says drone pilot and instructor John Lindstrom. He says drone pilots are “responsible for any damage they inflict with the drone. And that would include any incursions with other aircraft in the airspace.”
That kind of liability isn’t cheap – many drone pilots carry special insurance with payouts in the millions of dollars, just in case their drone causes an accident.
And people breaking the rules can face steep fines, and even be criminally charged. That’s why John says it’s important to learn about the rules before your first drone flight.
There are a number of resources to tap, including the FAA’s website, which clearly spells out what you need to do based on how you plan to fly.