Day 1 of InterDrone is always about education and policy for drones. There are several classes for those that need their Part 107, some ideas on shooting better video with their drones and more. This year there is also a drone mapping class and an introduction to handling drones on a construction site.
Our focus this year is the Policy stream. As you know, the FAA is rapidly updating drone laws and commercial drone operations are expanding to many uses. The class covers airspace laws, attaining waivers for your operations and where drones can go next, including BVLOS.
Let’s be clear, there is tons to see and learn on these topics, and much has been said over the last few years. This article will cover much of what is new, in the pipeline and goals for the future of drone operations for the United States and around the globe.
Privacy and trespassing
Is a drone flying over your house trespassing? What if it is 3 feet above the ground? As it sits, the answer is no. The FAA is the only federal authority that has something on the books for this, and they say as long as you are in the air, you are not trespassing. However, if your drone has a camera, it is a camera as far as privacy laws are concerned.Here’s the thing, the U.S. Constitution states that it is illegal (for the government) to prevent you from using your property. The Constitution also states that all citizens have the right to freely navigate the national airspace.
Both of the above have plenty of rules and laws that extend or encroach on your rights, but the core of the issue is those two items.
If we accept that privately owned and operated drones flying over your property can be considered a violation of your right to use your land, how do we define what aspect of that flight is the problem? You are not suing Delta for flying a jet 30,000 ft above your land. That jet, and the drone 20 ft above your roof, have the same rights to the sky. Is it just a matter of operating altitude? What if drones had to be 200ft above your property, would that be acceptable?
The simple fact is that there is no official answer to this dilemma, but lots of people are working on options. Just keep in mind that there is the issue of what flight aspects are fair and there is the issue of personal privacy, these are very different things, but are usually lumped together when people are angry about drones over their yard. After all, a drone with no camera isn’t taking photos of you or your property, but still that is the concern.
While we wait for new rules, you should probably manage your operations carefully. If you are just flying for fun at the park, consider staying away from the houses at that far end. I mean, you have the legal right to pick your nose in public, but please, please don’t.
Remember these key words as you build policy: Collection, Retention, Dissemination and Oversight.
In addition to general policy for your company, make sure you specifically layout these four items on any contracts or pre-flight documentation. They are pretty easy to understand:
- Collection: What data are you planning to collect with your drone, what precautions are you taking to ensure you only collect that data, without accidentally violating the neighbor’s privacy, and in what format are you collecting that data?
- Retention: Where will you store your flight data, what precautions are taken to ensure it is safe and what are you delivering to the client?
- Dissemination: Once again, will you be delivering this data to your client, uploading to YouTube or just storing it on your own drives? Do you have the legal right to put the data on YouTube? Does your client have legal right to take possession of the data?
- Oversight: What is your approvals process for each mission? Do you have a legal counsel that approves each operation before you go out? Who decides what equipment, safety procedures and ancillary are appropriate for a mission?
In the end, it’s all about transparency. Your client doesn’t need to know how you operate your drone, just like we don’t need to know how a pilot operates a manned aircraft, but we all have the right to know where an aircraft, your drone or an airplane, are going to or coming from in the sky.
Dealing with law enforcement
First and foremost, it is your job to ensure that you can fly legally in a given area. That does not mean you’ll be free questioning, but it’ll help big time in the long run.
Most enforcement, be they private security, local, state or federal police force, or the FAA, will either allow you to finish your operation before they approach you, or will ask you to land. If they attempt to discuss the operation while you are in the air, kindly ask them to let you land first. For safety.
Do you have all of your appropriate documentation handy? Do you have proof you are authorized to fly in this area? Is your drone properly registered and labeled? These are mandatory items that you may be required to produce.
Remember, the more info you have on hand, the better. There is a good chance you will know more about the laws and regulations in that area than the local authorities. This is an opportunity to share that info. Remember that a police officer may just be responding to a random ‘nuisance’ call about you and your drone. If you have all your details in order, you get to educate someone on the safety and proper operation of drones.
It is very important to remember, however, that the FAA controls the airspace, but not the ground. Your drone may be completely legal, but you may be trespassing. For the most part, nobody but the FAA can tell you where you can and cannot fly, but any governing body can make rules on where you can stand yourself, as well as where you can take-off and land.
Very important! If you are in violation of any ground or air laws, your equipment can be confiscated. That includes your drone, the controller and your smartphone! That’s right, if you use your phone to control your drone, it can be held as evidence until your court date, or longer. Buy a dedicated drone phone!
Counter UAS efforts
Remember when I told you it is illegal to shoot a drone out of the sky? Well, it’s also illegal to hijack a drone. There are many nuances on this topic, but the bottom line comes down to the FCC ruling that all electronics must accept radio frequency interference, and it is illegal to own machines that cause radio interference.
The leading tools to take down drones are radio frequency jammers, used by law enforcement. Fun, but not for sale.
An hour of talks looped back to one main factor, the only thing you can do right now to protect yourself from a nuisance drone, is gather evidence of the machine and report to the authorities. In addition to local law enforcement, you can report up to your regional FAA facility. Not just any old office, there are several FAA facilities specifically for drone accident and other reporting.
It is important to remember, however, that a drone flying over your house is probably completely legal to be there. If they are filming or taking photos of you or your property, you have a definite privacy violation on your hands. Not a drone violation.
Do you see how that previous distinction works? The flight laws are implemented by the FAA, they don’t deal with privacy or ground laws, including trespassing. I am not saying a drone over your house is an acceptable thing, I’m just asking you to report to the appropriate authority if you are being victimized. Or, for the pilots, just because the FAA says you can fly there, doesn’t mean you can actually fly there. Sound familiar yet?
Now, to throw a wrench in matters, the FAA outlines that all drone pilots must comply with privacy laws. Violation may result in the FAA confiscating your registration or Part 107 certification.
This is where we talk about DJI. Remember when the DOD and other government agencies recommended we don’t use DJI drones? This was simply because your captured drone photos and videos can be synced to DJI servers. Those servers can be located in China, and according to Chinese law, government entities can access that data. That is a violation of U.S. privacy laws. DJI and the DOD have no claims of this happening, but since it is possible, the U.S. governing entities have to speak up.
We like DJI drones, so we recommend you fly with your phone in airplane mode. Do not sync your photos and video to DJI servers and you are good to go! You can still carefully pick some clips to upload, as DJI’s editing services are pretty decent, just don’t send everything to your cloud account.
As you were reading about protecting yourself above, you must have wondered about how you can identify a drone that is violating your privacy or trespassing on your space. For starters, all drones over 0.55 lbs must legally be registered and have the registration number affixed to the outside of the craft.
Make no mistake, you are not going to be able to read a tiny set of letters on a drone that is fifty feet above your head. What if the drone emitted a radio signal that contained that registration number, and you could pick it up using an app on your phone?
The leading research is simple enough, a Wi-Fi and Bluetooth based transmitter may become the global standard. For public use, you’ll only be able to identify the drone registration number, maybe even some basic drone data, such as make and model.
For law enforcement and other authorized entities, they’ll have access to the FAA database to find out who the owner of that registration number is.
If you haven’t thought it already, they are seeking a system as safe and flexible as your car license plate. That is, they are protecting your privacy, not your anonymity.
For those in the know, are you wondering why they are making something new instead of using ADS-B? Simple, lives depend on ADS-B, we do not want to clog the frequency.
The system will be more than just a transmitter on a craft, there will be a network component and a reporting feature as well. Keeping this short: When you apply for LAANC authorization, your data reports to the system. If you are a hobby pilot, you can manually report your flight parameters and that goes in as well.
A transmitter on a craft has great immediate location and enforcement benefits, but it is acceptable for now to report a generic flight area and altitude. For manned aircraft, for typical operation, knowing you are flying your drone somewhere in that field over there at up to 300 ft, is just as good as knowing you are precisely 242 feet above the ground over the 10 yard line. The manned craft is just going to avoid the field.
Watch for more on this topic very soon.
As it sits, your drone flights are fairly restricted. You can’t fly at night, you can’t fly over people and many more similar limitations. You can get approval from the FAA to bypass these laws, if you can prove you are able to do so safely. These are called waivers.
You must apply to the FAA once for each waiver you wish to receive. The process is easy, but the task is significant.We need to add some serious waiver guidance articles to the site, but the simple overview is this: Find a successful waiver application and read it. Use it as a template to build your own. You will be including info such as your flight locations, your aircraft details, your pilot(s), their certification and experience, what measures you are taking to overcome the risks and all other factors that prove you are going to be safe and have a good reason to need exemption to a law.
Intel and UVify get waivers to fly at night and operate more than one drone per pilot when they run their light shows. Parachutes help get waivers for flying over people, and so forth.
As we say, waivers are a long topic, we’ll run through them one day.
The show goes on
That was day 1 of InterDrone. There are further classes and sessions throughout the week, and the show floor opens on day 2. Stay tuned for more coverage from Las Vegas.