July 13, 2024

Phantom BWB GCanyon(A UAV over the Grand Canyon – just a photoshop image – the FAA does not allow RC aircraft flights in national parks)

FAA Drone Rules for the UAV Pilot

 As a photographer, past private pilot, and now pilot of an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (frquently referred to, although incorrectly, as a “Drone”)  I am pleased to report that the FAA has just recently released it’s long awaited (and needed) proposed rules for UAVs.  And, I am happy to say, the rules seem to be quite reasonable and rational.


In previous articles I’ve written of my initial ventures into the world of UAV flight and photography.  (Here and here ) Flying a UAV is relatively easy these days, what with GPS stabalization and computerized flight controls.  But flying a UAV is still a serious undertaking.  Flown safely and responsibly, a UAV can be a wonderful and exhilarating flight experience.  The UAV can provide untold hours of flying enjoyment for the pilot.  It can also serve as a great photography or observational platform to create wonderful aerial views or check on locations and sites from a brand new and totally helpful perspective.  But when flown irresponsibly, the UAV is an accident waiting to happen.  Frivolous flying can pose a true threat to planes in the air and people on the ground.


As UAVs have become more sophisticated, less expensive, and more available,  an increasing number of people have become UAV owners and pilots.  I would like to think that most of these newbies are flying wisely and safely.  But I know for a fact that there are some “cowboys” out there who fly without giving much consideration to risks, dangers, and responsibilities.  All you have to do is search on YouTube and you will find an untold number of videos testifying to this fact.  Some pilots show and brag about videos shot from their UAV at tremendous heights – well over 1,000 feet.  That’s up there where “real” aircraft operate.  Others show videos of their UAVs punching upward through a cloud deck and then flying above the clouds.   For a “real” pilot to operate that way they would need an instrument rating and all the training and flight instrumentation that is required as well.  There are increasing numbers of “close calls” where commercial pilots report UAVs operating nearby, often when the commercial craft are in critical and congested airspace near airports.


The FAA has recognized the need for some operational guidelines for UAVs.  Their newly released rules are only “proposed” at the moment.  They will need to go through a variety of reviews stages.  But so far they seem to be reasonable.  They recognize that UAVs can be useful, helpful, and enjoyable devices when properly used.  At this point the proposed rules call for the following:


The UAV must weigh less than 55 pounds.  It must be flown only within a visual line of sight from the pilot /operator. (It appears there may also be provision for flights working with an observer who can assist if direct line of sight operation is limited).  Only daytime flights are authorized and visibility must equal or exceed three miles.  The craft cannot be flown at speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour and altitude cannot exceed 500 feet AGL (above ground level).  Flight directly over people is restricted.  Apparently the UAV will need to be registered with the FAA.  Pilots will need to have some type of licensing or certification as well which will be contingent on passing a written test demonstrating knowledge of rules and safe operations of a UAV.  License applicants will need to be at least 17 years of age and must pass some type of scrutiny / review by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).


To me, these rules seem to make sense.  They are appropriate for the type of craft involved.  They appear to be a reasonable approach to making UAV operation available and usable without overly burdening the UAV operator while at the same time providing reasonable guidelines to ensure safety of UAV operations.


My understanding is that these new regulations will apply to commerical use of UAVs.  If you are not involved in a commercial undertaking then the current “hobbiest” rules will still apply.  These basically say in essence – stay under 400 feet and away from airports – and more recently added – no flying over stadiums and large gatherings of people. nor in national parks. ( I’m not totally clear on all the details beyond that.  If you want to fly as a hobbiest – check out the rules.)

As a photographer and UAV pilot these new proposed regs seem workable.  I’ve written previously about my UAV flights and photography ( example click here ).   All of my work to date has been limited to personal enjoyment of a non-commercial nature.  And I’m pleased to say, all flights were conducted well within the parameters of the new proposed rules. Now, hopefully in the not too distant future, photographers will be able offer clients aerial photographs of events, locations and structures (within the limits of the forthcoming rules of course.)   That’s progress.  I can’t wait!

Fly Safe ……………. And Enjoy The Adventure!

Dr.B, The PhotoTrekker

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