Consumers Discover Drones as FAA Scrambles to Regulate Them

As the skies become more accessible to the general public, the Federal Aviation Administration attempts to control the chaos.

http://fhntoday.com/fhntoday-staff/?writer=Lucas%20Tabaka
Photo provided by FHN Media Photographer Lucas Tabaka

Editor’s Note: This piece originally appeared in the North Star Newsmagazine of the Francis Howell North High School in St. Charles, MO and on FHNtoday.com, the digital media site of FHN Media.


In what some would describe as a technological revolution, many companies are looking to expand their product lines into a realm that only organizations such as NASA, the Air Force and Boeing could go in the past. Small start-ups alongside larger businesses are diving head-first into the industry of drone, or unmanned aerial vehicle, manufacturing. These generally small, remote-controlled devices allow consumers to take the ability of flight into their own hands, flying recreationally and commercially over neighborhoods, business districts and rural areas.

“[My parents] always knew I liked the idea of drones,” UAV owner Alex Dickinson said. “The fact that I can fly over my neighborhood now, and even record it, is a really cool idea.”

UAVs can be ordered online and bought in store. By going to the manufacturer’s website, anyone can have the aircraft shipped directly to their house with no hurdles to jump through. Local stores that offer drones in stock include Target, Walmart and Best Buy.

Being the owner of a UAV manufactured by Parrot, Dickinson has one of the world’s most technologically-advanced yet consumer-friendly drones available in the palm of his hands. By using a smart device operating via iOS or Android, the regular-kid-turned-pilot can control the five-pound aircraft with the tip of his finger, making it go up, down, side-to-side and even upside down. He can see what the camera on his drone is capturing through his phone as well. Because he’s not running a commercial operation, Dickinson needs no special permission to record his flights as long as he doesn’t intentionally distribute them. A three-step tutorial is provided by the app, walking the user through the basics of the UAVs flight controls.

“It all comes down to education,” Jeff Nielsen, a captain who has been flying with a major U.S. legacy airline for 26 years, said. “But how are you going to educate people who don’t know they need to be educated?”

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That’s the problem. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the United States Department of Transportation (USDOT) are facing an education crisis, attempting to come up with a plan to enforce the Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs) that surround unmanned aircraft. In order to appeal to the mass of UAV owners, the agencies have launched vigorous social media campaigns promoting registration of consumer aircraft along side of informing the public of proper usage of their new devices. As a result of these campaigns, nearly 300,000 UAVs have been registered so far.

“I am pleased the public responded to our call to register,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a late-January statement from the FAA. “The National Airspace System is a great resource and all users of it, including UAS users, are responsible for keeping it safe.”

Though some users have pilot’s licenses, the vast majority of users don’t hold a certificate of any kind and some don’t have much prior knowledge about flight safety in general, causing concern for many about the future of the United States’ National Airspace System (NAS.) Among many other regulations, FARs state that model aircraft of any type may not be flown within five miles of an airport nor above 400 feet anywhere. In 2015 alone, 650 manned-aircraft pilots reported they had experienced an incursion of some kind with a UAV while in-flight, triple the amount reported in 2014.

“In typical Federal government knee-jerk style, the number of regulations imposed on personal UAVs is too much for the common person to care about, or even understand,” JL Johnson, lifelong aviation enthusiast, frequent flier and Senior Correspondent for AirlineReporter.com, said.

Johnson was surprised when he opened a present containing a UAV this past Christmas. Having observed the “craze,” as he describes it, from the sidelines, it took some time to dive in. Days after opening it, he learned of the FAA regulations surrounding the little aircraft and decided it wasn’t worth the hassle to even get it out of the box. He continues on, saying that these regulations leave two choices for consumers: be a law-abiding citizen and take the time to learn the rather-complex rules, or do as you please.

“Have fun, but be mindful of others,” Johnson said. “If everyone would use some common sense, we wouldn’t need regulations to begin with. Don’t be a jerk.”

AirlineGeeks.com Staff

AirlineGeeks.com Staff

AirlineGeeks.com began in February, 2013 as a one-man (er… teenager, rather) show. Since then, we’ve grown to have 20 active team members, and yes, we’re still growing. Some of us are looking to work in the aviation industry as professionals when we grow older. Some of us are still trying to decide what we want to do. That’s okay though, because we’re all here for the same reason: we love the airlines. We’re the youngest team of airline industry journalists out there.
AirlineGeeks.com Staff