Don’t Drone on Me!

Seems like over the last few years the world has gone drone crazy. While in Maui shooting XOXO, I had the misfortune of watching a custom made, $5000 rig go flying off rocks and right into the ocean. The disheartened pilot showed up holding his fragile baby in his arms with what looked to be tears. I have been hot and cold with the whole drone craze over the last few years. I see the value, it is a poor mans helicopter, it beings in a new world of opportunity for the average video guy. We suddenly have the birds eye view – and paired with a Go Pro, it makes things super simple.

I have for years worked with and played with Kite based systems. These were super fun to play with, but still impractical for video – I think in a downwind it’d be insane, but stabilizing the kite rig was always my biggest hang up. Especially since when I undertook the challenge 5 years ago, small gimbals and stabilizers were just not cost friendly or readily available. In this new drone era – you can find these items pretty quickly and for just a couple hundred dollars.

I have never personally flown a drone, but I have been getting more chances to work with drone footage and it is unreal. You can really expand the horizons of the edits using footage from these devices. I am a fan. And now want one for myself. But that also brought up an interesting thought – how legal are they? I know where I live in Palos Verdes, the skies are controlled by the city and the amateur radio association, so technically you have to be licensed by them and are allowed only to fly in two parks in the area. That does not stop people from flying them all over the place – they probably just are not aware of the laws. And let’s be honest, who is out enforcing them anyways…

The FAA is the body regulating the use of the drones – rightfully so since they handle anything that flies..but their rules on drones are left to a certain amount of interpretation..

Currently drone use by commercial firms for the intent of paid for services and marketing is illegal and punishable with fines up to $10,000 per offense. Realtors in particular have been at the brunt of the enforcement as they have been using drones to shoot homes. A court on the east coast ruled against the FAA in one case which forced the FAA to go back and make their regulations on drones more clear. The last set of regulations released on unmanned remote controlled aircraft was issued in 1981 – lots changed since then.

In addition to the prohibition of using drones for commercial use there is the question of where the airspace is itself, restricted. This map provides you pretty good insight into where the airspace is restricted by the FAA.

Now mind you, I doubt any FAA agents are hanging out in the South Bay looking for drones, but what if one of their friends gets a print from one of the many commercial photographers using the drones in the restricted airspace – there is evidence right there that the flight is illegal – the photo was taken from a drone, shot in an illegal spot and since the photo was purchased, that is proof of a commercial (non-recreational or hobbyist) enterprise. Your artwork is your downfall.

I considered hiring pilots for the end of the Catalina Classic and decided not to just based on the FAA guidelines, my own film would have been the incriminating evidence that I had hired someone to do an illegal flight in restricted airspace performing illegal activities.

Interesting loop hole though is that the FAA DOES allow drone flight for hobbyists. Which I find amazing, they would rather have people who have no idea what they are doing flying them instead of professionals using them.

The other night, I was sitting at home in San Pedro and heard that familiar sound of hornets swarming out my window- It was a drone. It had funny flashing lights and was making night time rounds in the neighborhood. It was then I considered the privacy issues that the FAA will also have to tackle. When a realtor flies a drone, is there an expectation of privacy from the houses near by? What could a pilot accidentally capture on video or photos that those people may not want captured?

For now, I am holding off on my drone enterprises until the laws are much more clear. I won’t be surprised if someday we see a bunch of FAA “drone agents” out enforcing guidelines and no fly zones. Till then, be educated, do research, contact your cities to find out where you can actually fly and of course – have fun and be safe!

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