A law to kill drones

The government is at it again. On May 26, 2017 a draft of a bill for the US Senate was passed around drone groups. The bill, called the “Drone Federalism Act of 2017”, was authored by Senator Feinstein of California. Before we get into the problems with this for drone operators (both hobbyist and commercial), here is a quick summary: 

  1. State and local municipalities have control of airspace up to 200' above ground level and drone flights closer than 200' to any structure
  2. No flight could take place within 200' above ground level of private property or within 200’ of private structures without the owner's permission
  3. FAA is ordered to provided help to 10 local/state governments to regulate drone use, and inclusion for them in the unmanned air traffic systems testing programs.
  4. No effect on the FAA and manned aviation
  5. There is no noted exemption in this bill for commercial operators.

If you just read these at face value or as someone with minimal interest in drones, you would just shrug your shoulders and move on. However, I would urge you to keep reading as some insight into the mind of a drone business owner and operator will probably dazzle and amaze you. Ok...it won’t do that, but it will hopefully explain why this bill is bad for the drone industry and would cripple a lot of commercial operations.  You probably notice cool aerial shots in movies and shows without thinking about how they get those shots, but many of those are done with drones and will be missing if this law is passed.

Obviously, the biggest issue here is state/county/municipal being allowed to have regulation over the airspace. Imagine if every city and township in your area had varying laws for driving your car. You would have to remember the different laws for each and make sure you didn’t confuse them. The same applies to drones. There are many times, whether in a city or a rural area, that flights can cross over from one town into another. Now what if these towns had differing laws? Are we supposed to adapt mid-flight to accommodate that? 

Then, think about the vastly different laws that each city could propose. No flights from public property, permits, fees, notifications, etc. - the list could go on forever. If I’m running flights in 4 different cities in a day I am supposed to keep all that straight?? A plumber or electrician might have some code differences between various cities, but at least the majority of what they do is all the same thing and doesn’t really change. This section of the proposed law alone has the potential to crush the drone industry. The US is already years behind countries in the EU when it comes to drones - why do we need to make it even worse? The FAA needs to be left in control of the all of the airspace so there is just 1 set of laws and we all follow them. Cities can currently regulate land use, where drones can/cannot takeoff and operate from, which is confusing enough. There are already tons of poorly written drone laws in lots of local cities. The last things we need is to have more cities attempting to regulating the airspace when they can barely handle regulating the land.

Here is a real world application of how this would affect commercial drones. MKE Drones often has operations that take place in areas that are controlled airspace, and we are granted permission by the FAA to fly at a maximum of 150-200’ above the ground for many of these. This law would mean that all of our operations would be taking place in the airspace that a city is regulating. There is no way to go up to 201’ and keep out of their control for the majority of the flight. And even if we in an area where we were able to go to that 201’+ it would still require takeoff/landing going through that city regulated airspace. So again you'd potentially be flying by 2 sets of rules just to get in the air! How does that even work?

Added to that, an operator would need permission for EVERY property they fly over at 200’ or less. Lets use an example from one of our operations on this one. MKE Drones flies a particular construction site every 2 weeks, and it happens to be in a residential area. These flights also take place in Class D airspace where we are restricted to no higher than 200’ above ground level. We gather still images and an orbit of the site for the owner and general contractor to track the progress of the site over time. Take a look at the photo below that shows our flight path we fly in order to get a simple orbit of the site. I can count 15 properties we fly over at 180’ to get the orbit we need. To be very clear - under this proposed law that means we need 15 permissions! So what happens if someone isn’t home, or if someone says no? Are we supposed to just skip that part? To date only 1 property owner has even been aware of this operation happening every few weeks, and was happy after just a simple discussion. We are performing a legal operation and service that disturbs no one, and doesn’t invade anyone's privacy. If the proposed law were passed, we would likely not be able to perform some or any of our services at this site. But, since the draft excludes all manned flight operations, a plane could still fly at 500’ and use a zoom lens to photograph the construction site or any of these peoples homes, yards, or property with no legal issues whatsoever. But a drone - it MUST be spying. No, sorry. We are here to get the footage we need and move onto the next job, not to see what the neighbors are up today. 

One of the other major issues with this bill - how could any of this even be enforced? People who are ignorant and people who are trying to do something illegal with their drone are still going to do things like fly into stadiums during an MLB game regardless of the laws. Essentially, all this does is burden down people who want to fly legally, and hurt the drone industry by adding additional burdens and costs to businesses and hobbyists that want to use drones. If the police come up to you to question if you are “following the city airspace laws” are you supposed to provide a full spreadsheet showing all your GPS coordinates, heights, and operations to prove to them you didn’t break their law? All of this is completely impossible to practically enforce. 

When you take into account that fact that this bill directly states that there will be no effect on manned aviation, you start to wonder about what the authors were after (most notably Senator Feinstein from California). Over the last year her state's municipalities have been notorious among drone operators for passing laws that show they are struggling to understand that a city doesn't control the airspace - the FAA does. They can regulate the land, but instead of doing that they try to regulate what can or can’t be done in the air, which is outside of their control due to Federal Preemption. It genuinely seems like this bill was crafted to offer more power to state and local governments without one single discussion with drone enthusiasts and commercial operators to see what the effects could be on their enjoyment and their businesses. 

Then, consider that most illegal or nuisance drone operations can be handled by the local police under current laws using disturbing the peace or disorderly conduct citations, and it makes this law seem unnecessary. It actually feels more like something to make politicians feel like they are actually doing something.

Everyone who flies drones, has an interest in drones, or even enjoys watching aerial footage in movies, TV shows, or social media should contact their Senators and tell them we want this bill killed before it even gets to committee.

Post written by Jon Elliott, Owner MKE Drones, LLC

IT'S A Drone!!!!

Over 2 years ago on October 14th, 2014 a drone sighting was reported over Camp Randall Stadium during a University of Wisconsin football game against Illinois. Almost no one noticed the drone except for a photographer from the State Journal who used his telephoto lens to snap a photo of the drone. 

The incident sparked off a Federal investigation with the FAA looking for the pilot and drone that were responsible for the flight. In 2004 as a result of the incidents of 9/11 the FAA started placing much stricter regulations on flights around sporting events. This resulted in a 3 mile radius around most stadiums that is off limits to any aircraft below 4,000 feet from 1 hour before an event starts to 1 hour after it concludes. Based on this regulation, the drone flight at the Badger game was illegal by Federal law. While multiple people were interviewed in relation to the case, a suspect was not caught and the case essentially has been cold since then. 

All of these events really identify a large issue that is affecting drones even today in 2017 - a lack of education. Every day thousands of drones are flown around the country for recreational and business purposes, and it seems almost daily a drone makes it into the news for breaking the law by flying too close to an airport, supposedly being spotted by a pilot flying at 10,000 feet, or for an interesting video that is picked up by a news source. But often these news stories are either not true, poorly reported, or are showing a video that was taken by a drone operator who was breaking the law in capturing the video. 

Despite some less than grand attempts by the FAA to educate the public drones still remain an area that the most people do not understand both in their functions and in the laws surrounding them. So let’s dig into some of the basics surrounding drones - or UAS as they are technically known.

So, let’s talk about laws. The FAA solely controls the airspace in the US and has control over the operation of drones while they are in the air. States and local governments are able to pass laws regarding where a drone can takeoff, land, and be operated from - though more and more cities are illegally attempting to regulate where drones can fly in the air, which according to the FAA is wrong. 

Maybe you saw a drone at your local big box retailer and decided to buy one to have a little fun - what do you need to know to be “legal”? The actual rules are pretty basic for hobbyists. Register your drone (https://registermyuas.faa.gov/), notify airports and helipads with a phone call if you are flying within 5 miles, check for TFRs (Temporary Flight Restrictions), and follow the flying code of a nationwide CBO (community-based organization) like the Academy of Model Aeronautics. For more on the AMA safety code visit this link: https://www.modelaircraft.org/files/105.pdf

But what if your neighbor sees you flying and says he’ll pay you to take photos of his business? Now you have stepped into the realm of commercial drones. The FAA defines a commercial flight as one that furthers a business or is done for compensation. So, if your flight has the intent of being used for your business (even just for marketing) or for you to be compensated in some way, it qualifies as commercial. As of August 2016, all commercial drone flights fall under Part 107 of the Code of Federal Regulations. This is a very stringent set of rules from the FAA that requires passing a test, having a fair amount of aeronautical knowledge, and applying for authorizations to fly near airports. For more on commercial drones flights click the link here: https://www.faa.gov/uas/getting_started/fly_for_work_business/

 

But what if you are just a member of the public and you see a drone flying near you - what is going on??? Well unless you happened have a stalker you’ve been hiding from lately, the drone is NOT spying on you. The cameras on your average consumer drones take great images, but unless they are close enough to you that you can feel that breeze of the blades, they can’t get enough detail to make out a clear image of you. In fact, someone on the ground with a telephoto lens - like the one used by the photographer at the Badger game mentioned earlier - is able to take a much better photo of you than a drone can. Even the commercial drones that do have zoom have to overcome motor vibration and movement which makes it difficult to get a clear image while zoomed in. So, if you see a drone flying around, watch and enjoy this great new technology. Once the operator lands the drone chat with them and learn more about why they enjoy flying drones. 

About the Author: Jon Elliott is the owner of MKE Drones, LLC in Milwaukee. He has hundreds of hours of experience flying drones to get aerial photos and video for construction sites, documentaries, and marketing. He also is an advocate for local and state regulations that promote drones, and proper representation of drones by the media.

For more info visit www.mkedrones.com

 

But It Was Cheap

The world that we live in has been dramatically changed by technology over the last few decades, and its made who we are as people very driven by the visual. Our eyes are constantly inundated by videos, photos, and virtual reality. These all play into and further our need for a visual experience.

So here is the question: Are you providing a visual experience for the customers, or the people who you want to get your business in front of? 

Most companies can say yes to that I am sure. But what sets your visual imagery and video apart from the crowd? 

There is a big problem - people are being bombarded by visual experience, so it takes something that is truly unique to set you apart from the rest - you need to showcase your business in the best possible light. You need high quality. To do that you have to be willing to pay just a more. Sure you can pay less and settle for something with low standards, but that’s not going to help set you apart in the digital age. 

Lets look at an example of this from a commercial real estate perspective. Jim is looking for an office for his business to move to. The first place he goes is the internet to start searching for properties. There are hundreds of properties available and he starts out by narrowing to the areas he wants to be in, then using the pictures online to determine which sites he wants to visit in person, and which ones he will ignore. If they pictures you are providing are not showing your properties in a good light Jim will just move right along to the next one. While you will never close a deal solely on the photography you present, you can lose a deal based on the photography. 

In the end are you really paying less? We are here to provided that quality photography and video - Just check out our portfolio

How We Fly Legally

Looking for aerial photos or video in Milwaukee? 

One of the things that sets MKE Drones apart from the competition is a commitment to flying legally. In today's evolving drone industry that can change quickly as well as be very complex. Staying on top of changes and understanding the laws is crucial to what we do. So what does it mean to "fly legally"? All of this will be in reference to flying commercial - flying for profit, or to benefit your business. Basically if it has a logo on it, was done for money, or will be used for marketing then it can be considered commercial.

Probably first and foremost is only using remote pilots with a Part 107 UAS certification. This certification is obtained through taking a test administered by the FAA at a special testing center. The test is not easy and requires knowledge of weather, aviation charts, radio communication, decision making, and about a dozen other areas. Then each pilot is vetted by the TSA to make sure that there are no concerns from a national safety perspective before being sent their certification. Every remote pilot at MKE Drones is certified, or has a certified pilot next to them and able to override and take control. 

Once the FAA gives out a pilot certification,  regulations must be followed to "fly legally". These regulations are all detailed in the Part 107 rules released August 29, 2016. One of the biggest rules is gaining authorization to fly in controlled airspace. All of the US is broken down into various classes of airspace, and you need to know which one - any airspace that is controlled by a tower requires prior authorization for flight which must be obtained from the FAA. 

Once permission is obtained, there are still regulations that apply to how you can fly the drone.  Here is a list of a few basic regulations that must be followed to make sure the FAA won't be looking to hand out a fine:

  • The pilot must maintain visual line of sight with the aircraft - without using things like binoculars. First person view on a camera screen does not qualify
  • Flights must occur between civil sunrise and civil twilight. 
  • Yield to all other aircraft
  • Maximum height of 400' above ground level (unless restricted by your airspace authorization)
  • No operation from a moving vehicle (unless in sparsely populated areas)
  • No flying over people unless they are direct members of the flight crew (like the pilot, or an assigned observer aiding the pilot). 
  • Pre-flight inspection must be done by the remote pilot

There is one consistent theme to these rules of safety. The FAA is trying to take a well structured system for manned aircraft, and incorporate small easily purchased drones into the national airspace as safely as possible. It took a while for the US to get these regulations - other countries have had them for years - but they did have a difficult task. Most of the industry is happy with the new rules as it opened up for people to fly drones and make money without a crazy level of red tape and ambiguous rules, which was the case before Part 107. 

MKE Drones flies legally. Its not as difficult as it was, but it still takes a tremendous amount of knowledge before you even learn to manipulate the sticks on the controller. Then on top of that it takes practice to get smooth footage and learn to get the right framing for photos. Does to company you have been looking at using follow the regulations? Does their work look good or just ok? Check our Portfolio and see our quality.

Illegal Local Drone Laws

Many cities across the US are trying to put into place laws regarding flying drones or UAS (unmanned aerial systems). Some of these include requiring a "license" to fly inside city limits, no-fly zones in parks, or limiting drones to only being able to fly in certain areas. But what do the laws say about this?

Legally, the FAA is the only agency that can control the airspace - which technically is all the open air inside the bounds of the US. There is no limit on height. If you are outdoors, once your one inch off the ground and controlling and aircraft, you are in airspace that is FAA controlled. So how does this apply to cities that are setting laws into place? A city can only control where someone takes off and lands from - they cannot control the the airspace once an operator is flying. So let say a city has a law saying no drones are allowed in the city limits. If I as a drone operator take off and land from outside the city boundaries - and I am not breaking any FAA laws - then I am flying 100% legally. The best example of this is the US National Parks. It is illegal to takeoff and land inside of National Parks without a permit (which has never been granted to anyone to date), but if you take off and land from outside the park you can fly over and through the park and you are well within legal bounds. A great case of a mis-placed law can be seen in this article where a law that ended up being removed from the books in Palm Beach, FL. 

Many people claim that the FAA does not control airspace below 500' based on the legal case United States v. Causby from 1946. There are a few problems with the idea of the FAA not controlling all national airspace regardless of height. First, that legal decision is now 70 years old and technology and airspace have changed significantly since then. How can a decision from that long ago accurately reflect where we are at with airspace today? Second, the FAA very clearly has stated that it controls all airspace and has the only authority to do so in the link here which was also mentioned earlier. Last, congress has very clearly tasked the FAA with setting up regulations for drones and integrating them into the national airspace. But drones can only legally fly below 400' - so clearly if the FAA is being directed to regulate drones in the airspace of 0-400' then that airspace is under FAA direction and control. 

One of the most significant concerns people have with drone flights is privacy, but the majority of drones are very noisy when close enough to the ground to get any kind of detailed photos or footage. This is slowly changing with the implementation of zooming cameras, but most states have a some type of privacy law in place in regards to photography. As well, if you are banning drones for privacy concerns, are you also going to ban regular telephoto lenses? A lot of times a ground camera can get a more privacy-violating photo than a drone can. 

Aside from the legal aspect, cities need to be careful about trying to over-regulate drone use. There are really 3 types of drone operators in the world: people who fly 100% legally, people who don't care about any laws, and people who are uninformed. By creating laws restricting drone use all you have done is stifle and barrier those who are trying to fly legally. Operators who don't care about laws will fly regardless, and uninformed operators will continue to fly since they are not aware of a law - but will be moved into the legal/illegal operator mentality once they are informed. You are only hindering people trying to fly legally. 

If you are a city considering a drone law, please consider the above information before making a rash decision. Don't stifle innovation. The FAA also has provided an advisory for municipalities at this link that gives guidance on how what regulations are allowable without consultation from the FAA.

Post written by Jon Elliott, Owner MKE Drones, LLC

www.mkedrones.com