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Encounters of the drone kind

What you should or should not do near a drone



By Jeni Ann Flores

You are at a park or in your backyard minding your own business when you hear the buzz of a giant mosquito. It is a drone, an unmanned aircraft system (UAS) or unmanned aircraft vehicle (UAV). It is equipped with a camera and your first instinct is to shoot the drone down, attack the operator or call the authorities.


These are not the right responses. In fact, damaging a drone or approaching a remote pilot during operation is illegal and can cause an accident.


There are many different kinds of drones: attack drones, monitoring drones, crowd control drones, and delivery drones. Probably the most common on Guam are the photo or video drones for recreational or commercial use.


Several government agencies also use drones for monitoring and research as well as agricultural purposes, among others. But I would guess most drones here are used to take photos or videos, monitor construction sites, mapping, real estate and just for plain fun.


It is unfortunate that some drone operators fly their drones without researching the rules and regulations that govern drone piloting. They see it as a basic right that the government should not interfere with. Maybe so. But because of the number of drones in the air in the United States at any given moment, and reports of accidents, the Federal Aviation Administration has put regulations in place to promote drone use and protect the safety of the public at the same time.


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What are these rules? Recreational drone pilots do not need to get an FAA Part 107 license as long as they fly at a maximum height of 400 feet and their drone weighs 55 lbs. or less.


They may fly in Class G airspace (open, rural, not near an airport or other aviation activity) without permission from the FAA or air traffic controllers. They may operate during daylight hours only, and during twilight and nighttime with certain lighting requirements. If anyone is making any money from the drone operation, then it is considered commercial and falls under Part 107, you will need a pilot license.


What are the rules about flying over people? These rules apply only if you hover over a group of people. They do not apply when only a few people happen to be in a public area, and are not an “assembly,” such as a concert or convention.


A drone is allowed to zip through crowds without stopping while on its way to a specific view or site. If a drone is over people in sustained flight in one place, the FAA requires that the drone notify everyone in the crowd and maintain a safe distance away from them while considering wind and other climate factors which will affect the control of the aircraft. Heavier drones have additional requirements, such as broadcasting remote ID and notifying the FAA.


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In all drone operations, the pilot must have a visual line of sight and must be able to see the drone. If the pilot cannot see the drone (such as if they are wearing goggles or are focused on the controls), they have to assign another person as VO or visual observer—someone who can monitor exactly where the drone is. The VO must communicate with the pilot in command for a safe and smooth mission.


If you have a drone, I strongly recommend that you at least take the TRUST Certification test offered by the FAA. It is super easy to pass, and it will help you understand the basic requirements for drone safety. If approached, you may can then show your TRUST certificate.


The FAA recommends that, as a courtesy, you inform your neighbors if you are flying nearby, and you think they may misinterpret your mission as an invasion of privacy. If you see a drone flying over your property, do not harm it. This is illegal. As far as I know, there are no privacy laws on Guam governing drones.


For sure, if you are near an airport or military base, there are airspace restrictions. You may report the drone flying overhead to the FAA, but first, try to find the operator. It could be they have permission to fly. I wanted to use my drone to see how badly my roof needed water blasting. But I checked my ALOFT app and found my area is restricted. I could have gotten temporary permission but it was easier to just use a ladder to look at my roof. (Check the B4UFLY app.)


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Drones are fun and useful tools. I was a drone coach and my students used small, indoor drones. The first lesson is safety. Even children can learn how to have fun with drones while being mindful of the safety of others. There is no stopping this technology.


There are more and more drones up in the air now and there will be more in the days to come. It is important for pilots to use their drones responsibly - with safety and concern for others in mind. Most drone pilots know this and do not want to give the rest of us a bad name. At the same time, the public should be mindful that drones are necessary for, commercial, law enforcement and professional use, as well as simply for fun.


Please remember this. Next time you see a drone pilot, wait respectfully and have a chat. You might learn a few interesting things. But first, stop screaming like a banshee at the first sight of one. It’s probably not a foreign spy.


Jeni Ann is an educator, drone and robotics coach. She is studying to take her FAA Part 107 pilot license. You may read more of her writing at www.teacherseditionflores.blogspot.com. Send feedback to teachersedition.flores@gmail.com




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