Rules over ‘drones’ up in the air

A remote controlled 'drone' (file).
A remote controlled 'drone' (file).

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — Drones. The word conjures up images of large military aircraft that drop bombs with precision. But that’s not the case for many people who fly small remote controlled aircraft for fun, and perhaps in the future, profit.

Even the name is debatable. Some cringe at the word drone and prefer to call them UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles). Popular these days are quad, or four rotor, helicopters like the DJI Phantom 2. Some can be equipped with GoPro camera to record aerial videos, while others have camera that sends back a live video signal to the operator’s phone or tablet (that’s called a FPV, or First Person View).

Just flying around is an enjoyable use for some. But others are thinking bigger. Real estate agents are using drones to showcase houses to potential buyers. Companies such as Amazon have proposed delivering packages via drones. One beer company even produced a video for a beer-by-drone delivery service.

An interesting idea perhaps, but it got shot down by the FAA earlier this year.

When and where you can fly and photograph are being questioned. Can you fly at a park? Maybe, but not at Yosemite National Park in California. Drones are banned because the National Parks Service says:

Drones can be extremely noisy, and can impact the natural soundscape. Drones can also impact the wilderness experience for other visitors creating an environment that is not conducive to wilderness travel. The use of drones also interferes with emergency rescue operations and can cause confusion and distraction for rescue personnel and other parties involved in the rescue operation. Additionally, drones can have negative impacts on wildlife nearby the area of use, especially sensitive nesting peregrine falcons on cliff walls.

All over the country there are questions and controversies over the use of these drones/model aircraft, and what role the FAA has over their use. The FAA says commercial use of drones is illegal. It has posted a ‘Busting Myths page about UAS (Unmanned Aircraft Systems) and has sent cease and desist letters to people it feels are out bounds.

Connecticut attorney Peter Sachs, who used his drone to help Branford firefighters early in 2014, created, to post news and information about model aircraft (he uses the word ‘drone’ on his site). He contends that these letters are bogus, that there is no law, no regulation, prohibiting their use commercial or otherwise. And he wrote his own rebuttal to the FAA’s myths post.

In one case that many on both sides of the issue are watching closely, a judge ruled against the FAA when it fined a man named Raphael Pirker $10,000 for flying his drone to shoot a promotional video. The FAA is appealing that ruling.

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