FAA Busts Top Seven Myths about Drones

Look here before you launch that beer-toting quadcopter.

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The FAA has taken the drone-flying explosion to task and recently posted its take on seven myths regarding commercial use of unmanned aerial systems (UAS), better known as drones. Recent press coverage has pointed to a wide expansion of drone use, commercial and otherwise. Drones have been reportedly used on a commercial basis to photograph real estate, monitor police speed traps and even deliver beer to thirsty ice fishermen. — Mark Phelps The FAA's post lists the following "myths" and includes explanations for why each one is off base: Myth 1. "The FAA doesn't control airspace below 400 feet." Fact: The FAA controls all airspace from the ground up. This myth is based on confusion with the rules for operating model aircraft, which are quite different from those involving any form of commercial flying operations. _
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Myth 2. Commercial UAS flights are OK if I'm over private property and stay below 400 feet. Fact: That's for model aircraft. A Federal Register notice from 2007 clarifies the FAA policy. It reads in part: "You may not fly a UAS for commercial purposes by claiming that you're operating according to the Model Aircraft guidelines (below 400 feet, 3 miles from an airport, away from populated areas)."
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Myth 3. Commercial UAS operations are a "gray area" in FAA regulations. No shades of gray here. From the FAA, "Anyone who wants to fly an aircraft — manned or unmanned — in U.S. airspace needs some level of FAA approval." (Photo by Halftermeyer via Wikipedia Creative Commons)
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Myth 4. There are too many commercial UAS operations for the FAA to stop. Fact: The feds do have to prioritize their enforcement based on level of hazard, however, "When the FAA discovers apparent unauthorized UAS operations, the agency has a number of enforcement tools available to address these operations, including a verbal warning, a warning letter and an order to stop the operation." For example, recently a Minnesota brewer was ordered to stop by the FAA when they released a video of a drone delivery system to airlift cases of beer.
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Myth 5. Commercial UAS operations will be OK after September 30, 2015. Fact: From the FAA statement: "In the 2012 FAA reauthorization legislation, Congress told the FAA to come up with a plan for ‘safe integration' of UAS by September 30, 2015. Safe integration will be incremental. The agency is still developing regulations, policies and standards that will cover a wide variety of UAS users and expects to publish a proposed rule for small UAS — under about 55 pounds — later this year. That proposed rule will likely include provisions for commercial operations." For example, Amazon announced a plan to deliver goods using drones, but not until the FAA crafts regulations clearing the way for commercial drone use.
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Myth 6. The FAA is lagging behind other countries in approving commercial drones. Fact: The FAA cited how the comparison is flawed, based on the complexity of U.S. airspace compared with that of other nations. The agency wrote: "Developing all the rules and standards we need is a very complex task, and we want to make sure we get it right the first time." (Photo by Fasicle via Wikipedia Creative Commons)
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Myth 7. The FAA predicts as many as 30,000 drones by 2030. Fact: That's old data, according to the FAA: "It was an estimate in the FAA's 2011 Aerospace Forecast. Since then, the agency has refined its prediction to focus on the area of greatest expected growth. The FAA currently estimates as many as 7,500 small commercial UAS may be in use by 2018, assuming the necessary regulations are in place." Updated numbers are expected with the publication of the FAA's proposed rule on UAS later this year, so stay tuned. The main weight of the FAA's message is that there is a substantive regulatory leap once money starts to change hands. Commercial use of an aircraft, any aircraft, makes all the difference when it comes to the level of regulation to be imposed. Read the full report here. — Mark Phelps