The proliferation of (illegal?) drone flights

by on February 28, 2014 at 2:13 pm in Law | Permalink

Commercial drones such as the one that left her and two friends with bruises are prohibited in the U.S. That hasn’t stopped a proliferation of flights nationwide that’s far beyond the policing ability of the Federal Aviation Administration, which is laboring to write long-awaited rules governing flights of unmanned aircraft. Drones, which are available online and at hobby shops, have been used to film scenes in The Wolf of Wall Street and to deliver flowers. They’ve been sent aloft to inspect oil-field equipment, capture sporting events, map farmland, and snap aerial photographs for real estate ads.

Some operators plead ignorance of the law. Others claim their flights are permitted under exemptions for hobbyists. Flying model aircraft below 400 feet and away from populated areas is generally permitted, provided it’s for recreation only. There’s not much the FAA can do to stop people from flouting the rules.

There is more here, from Bloomberg Businessweek.

Timothy February 28, 2014 at 2:18 pm

I know a guy at an outlaw drone startup. Does outlaw drone stuff, a lot of mapping and surveying, sometimes for municipalities.

Guest February 28, 2014 at 3:35 pm

Lock him up

Mark Thorson February 28, 2014 at 11:18 pm

Where’s the National Drone Association when you really need them?

Matt February 28, 2014 at 2:38 pm

Many of these “drones” seem like somewhat improved radio controlled airplanes or helicopters that have been around for a long time. Were these “illegal” despite being sold in hobby shops and used regularly? What the line is here is pretty unclear to me.

Finch February 28, 2014 at 2:46 pm

This was discussed here some time ago. The answer was that they are generally illegal to use commercially and have pretty tight limitations on hobbyist uses. Commercial regulation is coming but is years away. There are some trial airspaces in the US that are less restrictive, but you can bet you don’t live there.

Slocum February 28, 2014 at 2:54 pm

They’re *exactly* like RC airplanes and helicopters that have been around for a long time. The only real new things are the possibility of a live video feed (so that you can fly in ‘first person’ mode) and small HD video cameras like the GoPro that can take commercial-quality video. These things are pretty small — as in half a meter wide and weighing around 1kg, like this popular model, for example.

collin February 28, 2014 at 2:41 pm

I want Tacocopter!

Michael B Sullivan February 28, 2014 at 2:46 pm

I want ubiquitous tacocopter! The world of the 21st Century should be one in which all one need do is raise one’s hand, and a drone gently sets a taco in that hand.

Marie February 28, 2014 at 8:37 pm

Why can’t it feed you?

Mark Thorson February 28, 2014 at 11:21 pm

Because then it becomes a medical device, subject to FDA jurisdiction.

dearieme February 28, 2014 at 2:54 pm

What should I charge for the overflying rights of my back garden? Will I be allowed to use an interceptor drone to shoot down any intruders using my airspace without permission or payment? How high should my rights extend? Can I fly a barrage balloon to keep ‘em away?

Edward Burke February 28, 2014 at 3:13 pm

Fair questions.

Finch avers above that commercial regulation of drones remains years distant yet. But haven’t laws prohibiting shooting down drones (of unknown provenance) already been passed in one or two or more states? (or were these initial prohibitions Federal in origin?)

Once Jeff Bezos launches his Amazon Air Force, no one will be able to tell a commercial drone from a non-commercial drone. Are laser pointers useful in taking down drones, by the by? or has that use already been deemed illegal, too?

Finch February 28, 2014 at 4:14 pm

I imagine shooting at illegally used drones would be frowned upon just like shooting at your neighbor’s illegally used-in-a-summer-drought sprinkler system would be.

So Much For Subtlety February 28, 2014 at 10:22 pm

Afghans, Pakistanis and Indians fight kites. They put broken glass on their strings.

I think it is time to build hunter-killer drones. To track down all the other drones and blow them from the sky.

Could be fun. Or not. Either way it would be very hard to find out who did it and punish them.

andrew' February 28, 2014 at 5:28 pm

The blitz ended a while back.

If only drone dog fights are allowed I’d be amenable to that.

Roy February 28, 2014 at 3:08 pm

I will seriously annoyed if RC aircraft below 400′ will require FAA regulation, especially when used in unpopulated areas.

Slocum February 28, 2014 at 4:04 pm

Same here — there’s already plenty of amazing aerial amateur video on YouTube, and some of it is really of ‘Planet Earth’ quality. Or check out some of the ‘Team Blacksheep’ videos — really incredible stuff.

Brian Donohue February 28, 2014 at 7:09 pm

Very cool. Thanks for sharing.

Marie February 28, 2014 at 8:41 pm

Really nice.
They put one on an eagle, too.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G3QrhdfLCO8

Shane M February 28, 2014 at 6:20 pm

When I was small I lived on a farm, and occasionally hobbyists would come out and fly their model planes using a pasture for landing and taking off (they’d mow a landing strip). The crash landings are most memorable. With these new VTOL vehicles it doesn’t sound like they even need a landing strip now.

Lay Ropez February 28, 2014 at 3:33 pm

Well I can tell you that in the Philippines, those who qualify as wealthy and genius-level typically use drones to deliver gifts to their significantly younger girlfriends.

Guest February 28, 2014 at 3:37 pm

Lol – JAMRC, is that you???? How many dates do you have lined up for this weekend? What is the quality of their teeth?

Alan February 28, 2014 at 3:58 pm

Teeth? What teeth?

Brian Donohue February 28, 2014 at 10:04 pm

The Very Serious People here sniff, but I find this shite pretty funny.

msgkings March 1, 2014 at 2:46 am

+1. That’s outstanding.

Brian Donohue February 28, 2014 at 10:07 pm

Also, you forgot the Adonis part.

Lay Ropez February 28, 2014 at 11:07 pm

One might interpret that as a testament to humility, rather than forgetfulness.

Brian Donohue March 1, 2014 at 1:02 am

Oh, ah. Very proud of your humility, natch.

Eugene February 28, 2014 at 3:50 pm

See the FAA’s own statement “Busting Myths” on this subject: http://www.faa.gov/news/updates/?newsId=76240

Finch February 28, 2014 at 4:16 pm

That’s a great link. Thanks!

Slocum February 28, 2014 at 5:46 pm

That’s really dumb. These RC airplanes weight about 2 lbs. Canada Geese weigh up to 15 lbs, fly in large flocks, and don’t observe a 400 foot ceiling. The idea that a 2lb plastic and styrofoam RC airplane is a danger to aircraft is just silly. But the FAA is what it is. Regulators just can’t go around passing up opportunities to regulate.

Steve Sailer March 1, 2014 at 12:49 am

Because hitting geese is no problem for any pilot capable of safely ditching in the Hudson River.

Slocum March 1, 2014 at 7:01 am

Certainly hitting a flock of 15 lb geese can be a serious problem. But hitting a single 2 lb plastic and styrofoam RC airplane wouldn’t endanger a Cessna 150.

Finch March 1, 2014 at 9:01 am

The FAA is a zealous regulator. This isn’t the only place their actions seem undesirable to the point of ridiculousness, but it’s one of the more visible examples.

For a long time, there’s been no significant back-pressure on them. It’s not like Boeing wants less regulation of air and space – that’s what keeps the competitors out.

Steve February 28, 2014 at 4:21 pm

I’m going to fly my drone commercially and there’s nothing the FAA nor anyone else can do to stop me.

Alan February 28, 2014 at 4:48 pm

Not until they pry the controller from my cold dead hands.

andrew' February 28, 2014 at 5:24 pm

Dysregulation. Amazon won’t risk ad hoc regulatory enforcement.

Steve Sailer February 28, 2014 at 6:33 pm

It’s kind of funny how everybody is excited about drones, while interest in flying yourself around in your own small airplane continues to decline. A half century ago, Sam Walton built the biggest fortune in the country in part because he was a private pilot who flew himself between his Wal-Marts and used the flights to scout out new locations for stores from the air. But that just seems so 20th Century now.

Guest February 28, 2014 at 9:14 pm

Explore one’s surroundings? Posh posh. Google Earth is so much better.

ivvenalis February 28, 2014 at 7:38 pm

It’s all fun and games until someone puts a pipe bomb on one of these things.

XVO February 28, 2014 at 10:09 pm

Good idea, also coming soon fly on the wall spying!

So Much For Subtlety February 28, 2014 at 10:19 pm

The US Army has just put a GPS-enabled 81-mm mortar shell on one of these:

http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2012/11/drone-economics-tiny-tactical-drones-get-dirt-cheap-gps-guided-bombs/

And that is nothing compared to the Switchblade – which is a small electric-powered drone with a video camera and a warhead about the size of a hand grenade. It fits into a tube a little bigger than a Pringle’s tube, it can go for 3 km or so and presumable has every elected official with even a single enemy a little worried.

http://www.theregister.co.uk/Print/2011/11/25/thanksgiving_future_guns_ii/

Someone needs to mount an RPG on one. That would be a game changer. Or one of the older Soviet-style AT missiles.

ivvenalis March 1, 2014 at 9:43 am

Really, ATGMs *are* drones after a fashion. The earliest models actually had to be flown manually into their target. The real change is the proliferation of the materials to build them into private hands, particularly guidance system components like integrated-circuit gyroscopes and image-recognition algorithms.

I’ve seen Switchblades, though I’ve never used one. I don’t know what the company charges the DoD for them, but technologically they aren’t out of reach of a hobbyist except for the military HEDP warhead, which could be replaced by a blackpowder frag charge and still kill someone. I agree that public figures should be very afraid of assassination via homemade precision-guided munitions, but on the other hand they should be afraid of snipers too and yet hardly anyone is killed with rifles.

Shane M February 28, 2014 at 11:09 pm

This tech has to be frightening for military planners. How do you protect against this stuff? Every bird robot or mouse robot or fish robot becomes a threat.

ivvenalis March 1, 2014 at 9:53 am

I don’t know what strategic planners think, but my guess is that DECISION-MAKERS are ignorant and/or don’t care. I mean, shit, man-portable fire-and-forget top-attack ATGMs have existed for twenty years now and the US still doesn’t take seriously the threat that someone might, at some point, use such weapons against their forces. As far as I can tell, the lesson drawn from the 2006 Israeli-Hezbollah War isn’t “hey, these things have gotten way more dangerous than they were in 1975″ but “look, you still need to pay us more money for boondoggle weapons because people still fight wars”.

It’s obvious to me that the worthless Chinese rockets that get spammed nonstop at US bases in Afghanistan with practically zero effect are going to be replaced by something that can at least manage to land in the right grid square in the next war, but what the fuck do I know.

Chris Purnell March 1, 2014 at 4:49 pm

WMD’s via your friendly drone?

Boonton March 2, 2014 at 7:53 am

Like what I said about the infamous tacocopter, regulation follows innovation not the other way around. Innovators will uncover profitable things to do with drones, they will pull regulators behind them. There’s little point in trying to produce regulations before that since it would require the regulator to guess where the innovation will go (if they could do that why are they regulators and not, say, running a venture capital fund).

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