By Mark Judson
From halftime shows to online deliveries to the backyard, drones are increasingly visible.
However, getting in the air isn’t quite the buy-and-fly process it once was.
RULES OF THE AIR
Even recreational users still have to meet certain requirements and register their drone if it weighs more than .55 pounds.
Operators must keep their unmanned craft within sight and not fly within 5 miles of an airport or within an established no-fly zone, such as the area around a military base. Additionally, flights may not exceed 400 feet of altitude and they aren’t permitted to pass over people or vehicles.
Commercial flying involves a new set of regulations, and commercial operators must have a Remote Pilot Airman Certificate. Even using a drone for advertisements, such as flying a banner for a business, can qualify as commercial use, according to Mario Werth, a pilot and owner of Advanced Aerial Operations.
PURCHASING AND OPERATING
Quality recreational-use drones start at a few hundred dollars and can run as high as a few thousand.
Werth recommends purchasing a cheap drone to practice with before reaching too deep into the wallet. One of these models can be purchased for about $50 online and allow new operators the chance to learn controls and flight with little investment risk, according to Werth.
“You can fly it into a wall, chase the dog with it, whatever,” Werth said. “Once you feel really comfortable with them, you can move on to the big guys.”
Understanding regulations, flight procedures and associated risks is still necessary when beginning a hobby in drones. Additionally, flight classes are available to learners and mobile apps can help drone pilots take their hobby to new heights.
The challenge for some people comes in navigating the drone while operating and positioning the attached camera, according to Werth. He recommends new users learn how the device flies and functions first. After gaining this understanding, drone pilots can focus on learning the camera.
“When I do video work, I focus on where my camera is looking because I already know where my craft is and where I need it to be,” Werth said. “That comes with mastery of the required multitasking, though.”
The biggest risk posed by legal drone operation is to medical helicopters, utility infrastructure such as power lines or small, recreational planes, according to Werth.
“A drone can do minor damage to a commercial passenger plane, but it’s not likely to bring it down,” Werth said. “The real threat is with helicopters, Cessnas and ultralights (a type of lightweight one- or two-seat aircraft).”
Gulf Power hasn’t experienced any drone-related incidents to date, according to Media Relations Supervisor Rick DelaHaya. The company published an article in November that cautions drone pilots “to not fly over critical infrastructure such as power lines, substations and other electrical equipment.”
Drones have many uses, but interested operators should remember one thing: “It’s not a toy, it’s a drone; it’s a [Federal Aviation Administration] regulated aircraft,” Werth said.