Personal drones have the potential to be the Tickle Me Elmo or Razor Scooter of Christmas 2017.
Already having grown in popularity over the past few years, hundreds or even thousands more will likely be gifted in the next few weeks in Loudoun County.
Before buying or flying, however, residents are urged to learn about their device and then check the rules and regulations on where and how the remote-controlled flying devices can be deployed. While it may seem as if you just order a drone online or purchase one at Best Buy and fly away – not the case, legally at least.
Missie Ellis of Ashburn got hooked on drones about five years ago. She was a hobbyist for several years and has recently registered for a more advanced commercial certification, using her drone professionally as a photographer.
She said first-time drone hobbyists should be patient and do some homework before they run out their front door and launch their device.
“I recommend, when people first open it up is they read the manual,” she said. “They should get to know their drone, inside and out.”
Skip Weigand, Aviation Safety Inspector with the Federal Aviation Association’s Flight Standards Service, said reading drone-related information and then registering your drone are very important when getting into drones.
“We recommend that a person read all of the safety information that comes with the drone,” Weigand said. “But the tendency of people is, they’ve got a new toy and they charge it up and take it out and start flying it up and down the cul-de-sac.”
Weigand stressed that this may not be safe – and it may even be illegal. Most drones need to be registered and there are restrictions on how and where they can be flown.
“I would recommend they go to our website, faa.gov/uas,” Weigand said. “It has a tremendous amount of information.”
Ellis said first-time hobbyists would be best served to download an app from the FAA website: B4Ufly.
“[B4Ufly] is the perfect place to start,” she said. “That will give you all the rules right there and it will tell you your location and if you can fly it there. It’s everything in a package deal right there.”
Many people don’t realize that most drones are regulated by the FAA and must be registered under either Part 107 or Section 336 of FAA regulations.
To fly under Section 336, the Special Rule for Model Aircraft, it must meet the following criteria:
- It must be registered with the FAA as a “modeler.” To register, go to registermyuas.faa.gov. To register a person must be 13 or older and be a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident.
- The aircraft is flown strictly for hobby or recreational use.
- The aircraft operates in accordance with a community-based set of safety guidelines and within the programming of a nationwide community-based organization.
- The aircraft cannot weigh more than 55 pounds.
- The aircraft operates in a manner that does not interfere with, and gives way to, any manned aircraft.
- When flown within five miles of an airport, the operator must notify the airport with prior notice. Model aircraft operators flying from a permanent location (such as their home) that is within five miles of an airport should establish a mutual agreement on operating procedures with the airport operator.
If the operator or the aircraft fails to meet all of the Section 336 criteria, they must be flown under Part 107 and meet the following criteria:
- Get a Remote Pilot Certificate from the FAA
- Register the UAS as a “non-modeler.” The cost is $5 and is valid for three years. To register, go to registermyuas.faa.gov.
- Follow all Part 107 rules. Under Part 107, drones must weigh less than 55 pounds, including payload; they must be flown in Class G airspace; they must be flown during daylight, below 400 feet and at speeds less than 100 mph; can’t be flown directly over people, must be flown within visual line-of-sight of the operator and must yield right-of-way to manned aircraft.
- Be at least 16 years old.
- Pass an aeronautical knowledge test at the FAA-approved testing center.
- Undergo Transportation Safety Administration security screening.
Weigand said Class G airspace “is the lowest level of airspace. It is usually close to the ground and not near any airport space.”
Ellis said he was introduced to the world of drones when she saw one hovering near the starting line of a road race her husband was in.
“It was just hovering there, in front of all the people, and I thought it was cool,” she said. “I talked about it all the way home and googled “white drone” and bought my first one.”
After being registered for years as a “modeler,” Ellis decided to take advantage of the Part 107 opportunity when it went into effect earlier this year.
“When I first started out I registered as a hobbyist because at that time you could only fly commercially if you had a regular pilot’s license,” she said. “I took the test for Part 107 the first hour of the first day it was available. That was Aug. 29.”
Now, Ellis takes photos and short videos with her drone for Realtors and other clients. She is also involved in drone user groups on Facebook and other places, lending her expertise to beginners.
“I do a lot of subbing [teaching] and I’m thinking about starting a club at one of the schools, Discovery Elementary,” she said. “We could do it indoors so we wouldn’t have to worry about regulations.”
Ellis said it’s important to be a courteous flyer and to be conscious of your surroundings. Some of the parks in Loudoun County have posted signs banning drone flying and Ellis said she never flies when there is such a sign posted.
“I’m a rule-follower,” she said. “I can understand that if someone comes to the park with the expectation of having peace and quiet, they don’t want a drone hovering around them all the time.”
Ellis said there are many open places around Loudoun County for people to enjoy their drones.
“I have heard other towns are thinking about doing an actual park or an indoor facility for training and an outdoor area,” she said. “I think that’s a long way coming.”
Ellis said she thinks the drone phenomenon has not even begun to peak.
“I see a great future,” she said. “I see packages being delivered by drones. You look up and you see drones everywhere. It’s the young people who are going to lead the way, and I encourage people to get involved.”