Now that Christmas 2015 is over, it’s time to sit back and watch. Watch what you may ask? Watch the news, social media posts and other outlets for those who bought a drone for Junior and had it mysteriously take off. Having browsed a few groups on Facebook, there are already a bunch of postings that members have posted showing others posting how their son/daughter lost their drone. I’m not surprised by this in the least. As a drone owner myself, there is a lot that can go wrong, if you don’t know what you’re doing.
Before I took my DJI Phantom 3 for a flight, it sat on the floor in my living room for 3 days as I read the manuals, did practice flights and read input from other owners. The first flight I didn’t venture more than 20 feet up in the air and about 100 feet away. Slowly as I got used to controls I practiced flying techniques and eventually removed the beginner mode restrictions.
Fast forward 6 months, I’m in the process of filing for a Section 333 exemption, working toward a private pilot certificate and starting a business utilizing drones in construction, engineering, energy and other industrial applications. With every passing day, the news media is vilifying drones and drone operators as a whole. Sadly, there are many, many more responsible drone owners and operators than there are morons who have no clue what they are doing, nor do they care about the consequences of their actions.
Is it wrong to lump children into this category? In my mind, yes. I’m a big kid a heart, the idea of flight, seeing the world we live in from above, has always been a draw to me since my first flight. The responsibility is on the parents to realize, these are toys, but in untrained hands, can be deadly. Just like a bike, you have to learn how to safely ride your bike. Parents aren’t sending their kids out with a bike to learn on their own(well, for the most part), nor should they be doing so with a drone.
Read the manual yourself, learn the basics, how the controls work, safety features and failsafe return to home procedures. Then, take your kids out to the local recreation field, make sure there aren’t people in the vicinity, show them the controls and how it works. Teach them the proper safe operation of it. Educate them what can go wrong, why you don’t do it and how to avoid those situations. With a little education and prevention, these can be a fun toy and a valuable tool.
The sad part is, there are always going to be blooming idiots trying to fly these into areas they aren’t supposed to be in. Hence government intervention to control them. And honestly, we have nobody to blame but ourselves. In college, I had a human resources management class and the professor said there was a part in the handbook at the school stating not to drink White Out. Why? Well, because someone thought it might taste good. Thus the same reason why the FAA has implemented a registration requirement for recreational drones. Is it going to work? I’ll be interested in seeing how it plays out. My opinion, you’ll get some, but others won’t bother.
Registration is great, if they register it and if it is found having caused an incident. With the Section 333 Exemption, registration is required. Those using them for commercial applications aren’t going to jeopardize their investment, so I’m not going to go do something that will cause harm to others or would destroy my drone.
In order to bring these under control, manufacturers need to implement safety protocols in software. If they utilize a screen and GPS system, firmware should not allow flight in restricted areas. Others, such as micro UAVs, that don’t have a screen should be limited to a certain range(limit to 100′ or something in that range). My biggest question is, will these be a fad and thus go away in a few months? Once the initial “holy crap these are awesome” wears off, I believe they will be less of an issue, while there will still be some out there, it won’t be such a circus.
The Business Side
With commercial operations becoming more and more prevalent, there needs to be some regulations put into place. The proposed regulations the FAA has put forth seem to be fair. The licensing of operators needs to be implemented. Having started ground schooling before I owned a drone, I’ve thought aeronautical knowledge was needed for flying a drone into airspace. But is it necessary for the operator to be a certificated pilot? There are parts I don’t believe pertain to drones that are in the sport/private pilot certificate. However, there needs to be some sort of knowledge of how the friendly skies operate in order to safely operate a drone. It shouldn’t cost a fortune to achieve, but there should be enough of a fee for testing/training to keep those getting into it honest. In the grand scheme of things, $1,000 isn’t that much of a business startup cost.
This can help with keeping insurance costs down and providing your customer with the ease of mind that you’re a professional at your craft. My day job is in the crane and rigging industry. Our insurance company and customers want to know that our operators are certified, cranes are inspected annually and in some instances, want to know our teams have experience in similar circumstances that pertain to the requirements of the lift to be performed. The same should apply with the commercial UAV industry.
In the right hands, drones are a fun hobby to see our world from a new and exciting vantage point. In the wrong hands, they can be dangerous, causing damage to property, injury and potentially death to others. Making sure everything is thoroughly explored is key, and not something rushed through the lawmaking process as a knee jerk reaction because our government got caught with their hand in the cookie jar.
Speaking of that, I’m off to raid the Pizzelle(if you’re Italian, you know) jar.