What you need to know about flying drones and privacy
COLUMBIA - To many, drones are toys, but not to the Federal Aviation Association (FAA).
The FAA reports 1000s of new drones are being bought every week. So what are the rules for responsibly owning and operating an unmanned aerial vehicles... And what are your rights if there's an unwanted drone in your space?
Professor Judd Slivka is the Director of Aerial Journalism at The Reynolds Journalism Institute. He regularly flies drones while teaching his students the responsibilities of piloting an unmanned aircraft. Slivka says, "the biggest problem right now is people flying who don't know what they're doing.
If your considering buying and flying a drone, you should consider getting a remote pilot license.
According to the FAA's website all relevant study materials are available online.
The links have all the information you need to become qualified as a drone pilot, and you can even review sample test questions.
To take the test you'll need to find an accredited knowledge testing center in your area or call (800) 947-4228 to find a knowledge testing center nearby.
The cost of the test is approximately $150 and you'll need to bring a valid form of U.S. government identification that show your photo, date of birth, current address and signature.
If you fail the test, you can try again in 14 days. If you pass, however, then you'll need to complete the FAA Airman Certificate and the Rating Application.
Before you decide to buy your own drone, here are some basics to consider.
1) If you plan to fly it outdoors (which almost all do), you have to register your drone with the FAA. It cost $5.
2) A recreational drone can't weight more than 55 pounds.
3) Check for restricted flying areas you can't fly within 5 miles of an airport or air traffic control tower.
4) The drone can't go higher than 400 feet above the ground.
5) You can't fly over large sporting, or national events.
6) You shouldn't fly over people or their property without their permission.
It also takes a good amount of practice to master take-offs, hovering, yaw, pitch, roll and then landing. All while also keeping track of battery-life and any physical obstacles in the area.
The FAA is responsible for 29.4 million square miles of airspace and even drones are protected under it's rules.
With the popularity growing, government agencies are still trying to develop clearer rules on how close a drone can get to you and when can it be shot down.
The short answer is, the government hasn't ironed-out when it can take down a drone yet, so it's definitely not okay with you shooting one out of the sky.
The debate surrounds who owns the airspace above your property?
One side argues individuals own the rights to the airspace that extends up to 500 feet above their property. They say having a drone on or above someone's private property is the same as an intruder walking through your backyard.
The other side argue drones are the next big thing for the aviation industry and decisions regarding airspace should not be made by an private individuals but rather collectively.
There's no actual legal mandate on private air-space ownership yet.
What you can do is report a drone for 1) causing a disturbance 2) flying recklessly, or 3) violating the state privacy laws. And after you report it, authorities can only proceed if you find the owner.
That's not a quick fix either.
The Senate is currently working on a bill that would give the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice broad legal authority to start using anti-drone technology.
Congress gave the same authority to the Department of Defense and Department of Energy in 2016, and those departments have been trying to hammer out new rules with the FAA ever since. But they still aren't finished, and the legal authority to shoot down a drone still only applies if the drone is flying over specific areas, like military bases. So the average citizen who doesn't want a drone flying around their house or neighborhood, legally, can only report it to authorities and try to find the owner.
Slivka says he can see it from both sides. "I'm probably comfortable with someone flying over my property at 100 feet. Am I comfortable with them hovering at 40 feet? If I have a teenage daughter, am I comfortable if it's hovering at 35 feet and pointing down? Am I comfortable with that drone transitioning over, but not stopping?"
"At the end of the day, you're up in the national airspace. You're sharing it with lifeflight-helicopters and fighter jets, and cargo planes, and passenger airliners. And even though we're not going to hit 18,000 feet, when we're operating 300 feet from the hospital's helipad, that's dangerous for us and for the pilot and we want to make sure everyone is safe."
The key to grounding a rouge drone is to find the owner. With that being said, the FAA has struggled thus far to find many owners of drones that break the rules.
As of June of 2018, the FAA has only been able to track down 74 owners of 1000s of reported cases of unsafe or unauthorized drone use.
The FAA has hired contractors to install special equipment around airports that can figure out where to find the pilot, but that's not widely available yet.
There's discussion of the option to program the drones to avoid breaking the law in the first place. No-fly zones the drone will respect could be pre-programmed. If one gets too close to a restricted area, it will limit its own flight range, stop in midair or even refuse to leave the ground.
Ideally, the FAA says it wants to bake identification into drones before they're even sold to consumers, so authorities can scan a drone and instantly see who it belongs to, like a license plate. That also hasn't been mandated yet.
In fact, none of these have been decided on, so the FAA has made "recommendations" until something is agreed on.