FAA rules for drones may limit rural uses

Dec 2, 2014

A drone scouts wheat for crop researchers at the University of Illinois.
Credit L. Brian Stauffer / www.news.illinois.edu

The FAA’s proposed rules for flying drones pose a basic problem for rural users.  The rules are based on two purposes of use, hobby versus commercial, rather than where the drone is being flown, a wide open rural area versus near an urban airport.  Consequently, many potential rural uses such as checking crops or inspecting powers lines will fall under the proposed commercial rules applied to all areas of the U.S.

Under these rules a drone must remain under 400 feet, fly only in daylight hours, and always be within the operator’s line of site.  Moreover, the operator must have a regular FAA pilot’s license, the same as required to fly a manned aircraft.  That could make it hard for a rancher to use a drone to check his herds across several sections of land.  Ella Atkins, associate professor for aerospace engineering at the University of Michigan, advocates in a Wired article that the FAA needs to “think about where they’re flying” and avoid the problems with rules where “we’re not able to distinguish Times Square from a farm.”

DJI Phantom 2 Vision Quadcopter available for $1,040.
Credit DJI

The proposed rules are in response to rapid changes in the availability and affordability of drones along with their increasingly troublesome and dangerous uses.  In an article titled “Now, Anyone Can Buy a Drone. Heaven Help Us.”, the New York Times chronicles some of the recent exploits and quotes experts who foresee a “wild west” period as the technology makes its way into everyday life:

As the price of drones has fallen and sales have risen, the machines have emerged as central characters in stunts from the puckish to the criminal. In recent months, drone pilots have tried to smuggle contraband into prisons and disrupt sporting events at stadiums. Animal rights groups have turned to drones to stalk hunters as the hunters stalk wildlife. And in France, more than a dozen illegal flights over nuclear power plants have unnerved the authorities.

“It’s now in the hands of all types of people — good people, bad people, tricksters, pranksters, kids,” said Patrick Egan, a consultant on commercial drone projects and editor at sUAS News, a drone news site. “All hell is going to break loose as far as the shenanigans that are perpetrated with drones.”

It should be noted that the FAA is still in the early days in of its rule-making process, which is known to be slow and deliberate, and the rules are likely to go through many iterations before being finalized.  Perhaps where a drone is flown will make it into those final rules.

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Air Angels Drone available for $325.
Credit www.petacatalog.com

PETA offers the Air Angel Drone through its on-line store and encourages supporters to be use them to “collect instant to-your-phone video footage of hunters engaging in illegal activity, such as drinking while in possession of a firearm, injuring animals and failing to pursue them, and illegally using spotlights, feed lures, and other nasty but common hunting tricks”. 

 

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