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Jeffrey Byrnes Photographer Fashion + Portraits + Travel

Drones: Know the NOs

Recently I was interviewed by the local news about my drone, usage, legality, and a few other topics related to the use of drones and the FAA. I begin this post with one idea in mind. One simple thought, which is, I never would have thought technology like this would be so easy to access and that I would be able to fly a camera around. With that being said, here is another thought that came to mind almost instantaneously, never would I thought that making images/video could be so criminal.

The reality is that it is not a crime to operate a drone so long common sense is applied. At least, not at the moment. Here are some no fly examples. Flying a drone around a major airport, that's a big NO NO! Flying a drone around an air force base, an even bigger NO NO! More like a HELL NO NO! Spying on your neighbors wife in the backyard, unless she is a super model and you're a Hollywood Director, yea nope, still a no fly zone. Flying at certain altitudes over municipal buildings without clearance is a no no. Flying over a residential neighborhood under 400' is considered trespassing, a no fly zone.

It really is a common sense practice amongst being a huge responsibility. When interviewed by the news, I was told time and time again that their idea of a story was based on the record number of sales of them over the holidays. Fearing that little Timmy down the street has ones, parents should understand that these are not toys. The technology that is in them is powerful, as powerful as the device itself. Depending on which drone you have, you can have any where from 4-8 spinning blades. That is 4-8 times the ability to hurt someone or something.  

When I say it is a common sense practice, it is really more than that. There are things you have to pay close attention to, such as, where and when to fly, how close to properties you should be, observing privacy, observing a safe line of sight, and safe flying practices. The Dji Phantom that I have has a very high range of altitude. The higher something gets, the further it gets away, harder it becomes to see. If you need a really high up, shot, something from above 1000' charter an airplane, helicopter, hot air ballon. I watched a Youtube  back in 2014 in which the guy sent his Phantom up beyond its limits. When the controller and the drone stopped speaking, he effectively lost the drone. It wasn't until days later after a neighborhood canvas did he get it back by someone who found it. 

I am not going to give you the mathematical or physics breakdown of what would happen with having something fall from 900' up. It should be obvious what would happen, damage. The youtuber went on to say that he wouldn't do that again, yadda yadda yadda. I've never reached my max range with my drone. Unless requested to for a project, I won't be sending mine out to max range. If need be, I would do so with safe guidelines and measures to ensure liability. The truth of the matter is, if you are flying a device in that altitude and it comes back down to earth with a crashing thud, chances are someone or something is going to be damaged. I for one know that I do not want to be held liable for damage to any property. While I do have a good insurance policy in place, that doesn't mean I want to use. 

As you might start to read articles and other similar topics related to the use a drones there is another point being hammered, the commercial use of drones. We have all heard that Amazon wants to use them. We are still a few years away from that happening. The sad reality is that the FAA is dragging their feet in clearing film makers and photographers the right to freely prosper economically from this technology. As I said to someone I know who keeps me in the loop on things from time to time, I feel this is a bureaucratic move. Someone in some office, in some state or federal building is telling someone to tell the FAA to not handle this or handle according to how they want it. Another staggering reality is that people are in fear of this technology. The likelihood that someone operating a drone is going to spy on you is ridiculous. The average person operating one, be it a photographer or videographer doesn't care about trivial matters. They are flying with an agenda. 

I read an article back about two years ago, about the time drones were becoming popular for people, before it became a debated topic. The article went on to discuss a photographer had used his drone, observed a crime being committed and acted upon that and alerted the authorities. Once convicted the criminal then sued the photographer for a violation of privacy. Only in America.... 

The rumors are that the FAA wants people to become a fully licensed pilot. Crazy right? Yes. I would happily take on a permit or some other form of certificate that would allow me to legal right to operate my drone commercially. Even more crazy is that the FAA has "awarded" a select few the right to do so commercially. This to me is a red flag with a question. "How were the awarded?" Was a fee paid that allowed them this "award?" Did the apply and receive the right? I can not say. It may not be clear as to how a few companies were given special permission. But again, this goes back to an assumption, someone is calling the shots. If that were not true, the FAA would come out with guidelines, regulations, rules, permitting, laws, etc. They have not. The FAA tells people that they are not allowed to use them commercially, fines will be handed out, and that the policies will not be set for a few years to come. WHY? 

The future of the use of drones is a largely debated topic with an invisible question mark that is hovering over the heads of anyone who would like to operate them economically. There are real world applications and uses for them that are beyond the purposes of creating cool images. Recently I became aware of these applications when I used mine to film the exterior of an 8 story building that had a partial collapse that forced residents to evacuate the neighboring building and the closure of a major artery for traffic in the city I live in. The moment the fire dept saw me flying over the roof of the building they requested to see my footage. Following that, the city, structural engineers, contractors, and other city departments were able to see the footage and make their assessments. At the very least, the fire dept did not have to risk the lives of their fire fighters by lifting a ladder to the top of the building. 

Aside from the commercial application, there are a number of companies that could be affected by the pending restrictions the FAA is stalling on. Anyone that manufactures drones, drone accessories, parts, or the technology that is used in them could suffer. With a record number of sales in recent months, it is obvious that they are desired and that more people are accepting of them. I read an article yesterday that discussed briefly that pilots of real planes, the ones human beings occupy and are transported in, are reporting the sightings of drones more frequently. The article, brief as it was, mentioned 25 reports a month by pilots. The article did not specify the manner in which every report was logged, meaning just how close each drone was, where the pilot was seeing them, how low the plane was when they were spotted. It was geared towards a more objective response to their rise in popularity. I wonder, think with me for a second, are pilots reporting every time they see a bird? Don't think so. So why is it that a drone is worth so much scrutiny? Again, this goes back to people fearing them. 

According to another article that I read, the FAA has won a law suit that effectively re-designated drones as "aircraft." Shenanigans I say. More bureaucratic politics at work. Having them renamed as aircraft now allows the FAA and anyone else for that matter the right to impose further restrictions. The bottom line is that we do not need such stiff restrictions on drones. As I said, I would be all for the legal right to operate commercially. I am by no means arguing against the FAA or saying F the FAA, I am merely trying to defend anyone that wants to use them economically. I wait in wonder as to the future of the economic use of my drone. It is irritating to be reading nonsense on the daily. 

In closing, drones are a lot of responsibility. They are not toys and should be regarded as a machine that requires a proper understanding of how they operate. If anyone tells you they are easy to fly, the are mistaken. It takes quite a bit of practice and even more thought and precise control and care to fly. Each flight should be well considered and all spots should be well scouted before flying. As I said earlier, common sense is a must. If you are common sense deficient or prone to accidents, please avoid operating a drone. 

The above pictured images were made under safe conditions. Flown in an open area, away from a high traffic airport, and a safe distance away of objects, I observed my surroundings carefully and with caution for what could come into the airspace of my drone. I knew the locations well and did a precise scouting prior to taking off. When I purchased mine, I was not given a handbook of procedures to follow, there was no guidebook for common sense in the box. I applied a set of professional skills and relied on my intuition and smarts to make these photographs. I would encourage anyone who is using or planning to, do so with a smart, clear, objective mindset. Don't fly where you shouldn't, don't push the limits unless you can do so safely, and lastly, just don't do anything stupid...