Aerial Drones

Aerial drones are a category of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that can travel through the air. A quadcopter is a drone that carries an action camera to capture footage while flying for photography, journalism, or other purposes.

Features

  • Foldable arms
  • Landing gears
  • Flight duration
  • Flight speed
  • Weight

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In the United States, the legality of the use of remotely controlled aircraft for commercial purposes has been the source of legal issues. Raphael Pirker, a professional photographer, was fined by the FAA in 2012 for “endangering people on the ground” (a regulatory infraction) after he used a Zephyr fixed-wing drone—a “five-pound Styrofoam model airplane”—to take aerial photos of the University of Virginia‘s campus in 2011.[72][73] In March 2014, a federal administrative law judge ruled in Pirker’s favor, determining that his drone was a “model aircraft” and thus not subject to FAA regulations on other types of aircraft.[72] The FAA appealed to the National Transportation Safety Board; the NTSB appointed a new administrative law judge, who overturned the earlier finding and ruled that under the FAA’s enabling act, the FAA had jurisdiction to regulate “any contrivance invented, used or designed to navigate, or fly in, the air,” irrespective of whether it was unmanned or manned.[72] Pirker was fined $10,000, but in January 2015 settled the matter with the FAA, agreeing to pay a $1,100 fine without admitting guilt.[72] According to a report in Aviation Week, the matter “became a cause célèbre among the model aircraft and recreational and commercial small drone communities.”[72]

In December 2014, the FAA released a video detailing many best practices for new drone pilots, including advisories such as keeping their machines below 400 feet and always within visual sight.[74]

As of March 2015, the United States created an interim policy for the legal use of unmanned aerial vehicles for commercial use where each operator can apply for an exemption filed under Section 333 with the FAA. As of August 2015 the FAA had granted over 1300 petitions to different use cases and industries.[75] Furthermore, FAA has started discussions in November 2015 to require all hobbyists to also register personal drones to FAA website.[76]

In December 2014, FAA started the registration process for all model aircraft weighing more than 0.55 pounds (≈ 250 grams) and less than 55 pounds (≈ 25 kilograms), including payloads such as all on-board cameras and other accessories. FAA’s decision on the matter caused resistance from the hobbyist community at the time. In October 2015 the FAA issued rules legally requiring registration, starting January 2016, but on May 19, 2017, the United States Court of Appeals for the Washington D.C. circuit ruled that this violated the 2012 FAA Modernization and Reform Act, which states that the FAA “may not promulgate any rule or regulation regarding a model aircraft.”[77] The FAA continues to allow registration on a voluntary basis, as well as requiring it for commercial use, but states that it is not required if “flying under the Special Rule for Model Aircraft” (recreational hobby use).[78]

In addition to the registration requirement, FAA has also released various operational requirements as follows:[79]

  • Flight only below 400 feet above ground.
  • The operator must maintain visual contact with the aircraft at all times.
  • Not fly near manned aircraft, especially near airports.
  • Not fly over groups of people, stadiums or sporting events.
  • Not fly near emergency response efforts, such as accident sites or forest fires.

On October 5, 2018, the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 passed congress and was sent for the president’s signature. The bipartisan bill split the hobbyist community, with the Commercial Drone Alliance in favor of the new law, while the Academy of Model Aeronautics urged its members to oppose the bill.[80]

The major change in the new law is the repeal of Section 336. All sUAS owners, including quadcopters, will be required to register their aircraft and pass a general aeronautical knowledge test. In June 2019, the FAA announced new rules for recreational and non-commercial fliers. Recreational pilots would no longer be allowed to fly in controlled airspace by contacting air traffic control towers. This rule will be in effect until the LAANC system for hobbyists is rolled out in the summer of 2019.[81]

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