Everyone is a Drone’s Companion
By Rebekah Waters, FAA Safety Briefing Magazine
This issue is dedicated to “flying companions,” but when it comes to drones, there are no right-hand seats — drones don’t carry passengers (at least not yet!). So, who is the flying companion of a drone pilot? If you think about it, it’s anyone nearby your flight. Let’s look at how communication and education make your flying companions more comfortable with your drone operation and why doing so is important for you, the general public, and the entire drone industry.
As drones continue to evolve, people tend to have a lot of strong feelings about them. The people who fly drones love to see them in the air, but many others have a “not in my neighborhood” attitude about these aircraft. The FAA’s UAS Support Center receives many calls from people complaining about drones flying in their neighborhood. These complaints range from issues with the noise, confusion about who owns the airspace above a property, and even fear of being spied on and other privacy concerns. It’s important to be a good ambassador for the drone community to help dispel some common myths and misconceptions about drones, which can have a positive effect on future integration efforts.
Be a Good Neighbor
The FAA regulates and ensures the safety of the national airspace system (NAS), but there can be many other considerations that impact the way others feel about your flight and drones in general. Some things to consider are local and state laws regarding noise and privacy. Before you plan your flight, check to see if there are any local noise ordinances that you should be aware of, and make sure your flight is in compliance with any allowable noise levels. If you think you will be flying over, or even appear to be flying over, a neighbor’s property, it might be a good idea to let them know in advance. A friendly explanation can go a long way toward peace and harmony with your neighbor, and it can help foster a better reputation for the entire drone community. You may even end up sparking an interest in drones and encouraging someone new to engage with this technology.
Play it Safe
If you have friends and family watching your flight, make sure they know how to play it safe around drones. Remind them that, even if it looks like a toy, your drone is an aircraft. Teach them to never reach for a flying drone and to stay well clear of the drone any time it’s activated. Let them know that while you are flying, you need to devote all your attention to the flight. Make sure they know to save all questions and comments until after you’ve landed your drone safely on the ground. Keeping everyone safe around your drone is your top priority.
Just Because You Can
Remember that just because you can doesn’t mean you should. While the FAA has authority over the airspace, takeoffs and landings from certain properties can be restricted by state, local, territorial, or tribal government agencies. The FAA provides No Drone Zone signs that can be used by agencies to identify areas with local restrictions. While these zones only restrict the takeoff and landing of a drone, and don’t restrict the flight in airspace above these areas, it might still be a good idea to avoid flying over these areas. Local restrictions may exist because of serious concerns about the negative impact that drones can have on the safety of visitors, staff, and wildlife in parks and sanctuaries. So, while you technically could launch your drone across the street from a park and fly over it, it may not be the “good neighbor” thing to do.
The first time I saw a drone “in the wild” was at my brother’s wedding in 2016. The photographer got some amazing shots and video footage. After he landed the drone, he took time to answer my questions and even pulled up some of the footage captured for me to see. Before this, I couldn’t have imagined having a drone at a wedding, but that drone captured memories in a way that conventional photography couldn’t. Now my brother and sister-in-law have unique and beautiful imagery shot from above. Taking the time to treat me like his flying companion helped me have a positive first experience with drones. Like this photographer, be aware of your flying companions, and make sure you give them a great experience with drones. It’s up to all of us to make sure we give drones a good buzz!
Rebekah Waters is an FAA Safety Briefing associate editor. She is a technical writer-editor in the FAA’s Flight Standards Service.