Drones: The Federal Government’s Attempt to Fly In and Regulate Them

By Kevin Peterford – With Back to the Future Day just passing and the Star Wars saga continuing in less than two months, futuristic Drones and the laws surrounding them are finding themselves in the news as well.  What exactly is a Drone? What can Drones do? What is the government doing to regulate citizens’ use of drones? These answers will be answered and parsed throughout this article. This article will focus more on the laws surrounding Remote Control (“RC”) drones, rather than the drones that the military uses.

Dictionary.com defines a drone as “an unmanned aircraft or ship that can navigate autonomously, without human control or beyond line of sight.” The website also offers a looser definition of a drone as “any unmanned aircraft or ship that is guided remotely.” Drones can come with a wide array of capabilities. Some offer four propellers and some offer two. Some drones can record video footage by allowing the user to attach a video recording device, such as a Go-Pro, to the drone. More advanced drones give the user the ability to input GPS coordinates and the drone will fly itself to those coordinates. Finally, as many would assume, there are also mobile applications so that drone users can simply use their phones to fly a drone.

As fun as the ability to fly an aircraft hundreds of feet in the air with your iPhone sounds, it also poses great dangers to society. The drone society coins one such risk as “flyaways.” With enough wind going in a certain direction, drones can easily get caught and blow away. The problem with a flyaway drone is not the user losing his/her two-pound, $1000 investment. In the words of Isaac Newton, “What goes up must come down.” The problem comes when that expensive, two-pound investment decides it is too tired (dead battery) to fly on its own any more. A 2.2-pound drone falling from 400 feet, without wind resistance, equates to 2,200 pounds of force. According to a 2014 Washington Post investigation, there have been 236 unsafe drone incidents since November 2009. The same study also highlighted that airlines and airports reported many incidents and close calls involving drones flying in their airspace.

With the holiday season approaching, the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) is working to create rules and regulations for the recreational use of drones. With only a few months until families are shopping for the best drone to buy, many are skeptical about the FAA being able to implement drone regulation so quickly. The Wall Street Journal pointed out that a member familiar with the matter says that the FAA will declare this drone regulation an emergency and be able to push the process through much faster. Under 49 U.S. Code §106(f)(3)(B)(ii), “in an emergency, the Administrator may issue a regulation described in clause (i) without prior approval by the Secretary, but any such emergency regulation is subject to ratification by the Secretary after it is issued and shall be rescinded by the Administrator within 5 days.” Under this provision, it appears that the FAA may be able to regulate the use of drones by the end of the year.

The main regulation that the FAA is pushing for is the registering of drones. CNN reports that the Department of Transportation plans to implement rules requiring that all drone users must register their drones with the department. The department will be creating a task force that will recommend the specifics of how the registration process will work. The details of the regulation are still in the works, but the requirement of an overall registration requirement will hopefully cut down danger incidents and accidents involving drones.

Each drone being registered to the user/pilot will hold the owner of the drone to a higher level of responsibility. From a drone user’s perspective, they know that if something happens with their drone that they can’t easily run away and avoid being held accountable. Users will be forced to use their drones more responsibly and safely so that they will not be liable for an accident.

This regulation is a good first step in combatting the dangerous incidents that can be caused by the unsafe flying of drones. This registration requirement coupled with more rules being made down the road will hopefully keep the airways and everywhere else underneath safe.

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