Droning On

How to “fly right” when operating a drone

By: Kim Bridger-Hunt

They come in all shapes and sizes. They are used in farming, real estate, news gathering and criminal investigations, and by aviation enthusiasts. More and more people have them these days, and if the predictions are correct, many more of you will give them and get them as Christmas presents this year.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has established some rules designed to help integrate Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) into the airspace in a way that doesn’t put manned flight at risk. There are countless caveats to the rules that can dictate how they apply to any one individual. In order to understand which sets of rules might apply to you, the first step is to establish whether you plan to use your UAS for fun or for business purposes.

Flying drones for fun
If you get a drone for Christmas and decide to go outside and give it a whirl, there are a few things you need to keep in mind. It is your responsibility to operate your drone in a safe manner. While the FAA has decided to allow hobbyists to fly unmanned aircrafts without getting special permission or having to register their gadgets, there are safety guidelines that operators should follow at all times. The FAA safety guidelines include:

• Fly at or below 400 feet
• Be aware of airspace requirements and restrictions
• Stay away from surrounding obstacles
• Keep your UAS within sight, and never fly near other aircraft, especially near airports
• Never fly over stadiums or sporting events
• Never fly near emergency-response efforts such as fires
• Never fly under the influence of drugs or alcohol

Special airspace requirements and restrictions can exist anywhere, and they may not be obvious to the operator. If you plan to operate your UAS, you should check the FAA website for airspace restrictions in your area. These vary from place to place, and from day to day. In August, the FAA and the Department of the Interior (DOI) took steps to permanently restrict drone flights over well-known landmarks in various parts of the nation. The landmarks protected by this rule include the Statue of Liberty National Monument in New York, Hoover Dam in Nevada and Mount Rushmore National Memorial in South Dakota.

Flying your drone strictly as a hobby or for recreational use allows you to operate under what’s known as the Special Rule for Model Aircraft. The operator must conform with community-based safety guidelines and within the programming of a nationwide, community-based organization. This means observing the guidelines issued by organizations like the Academy of Model Aeronautics, which has been an advocate for model aircraft operators for years. Flying under this category requires:

• A UAS weight limit of no more than 55 pounds

• The aircraft to be operated in a manner that does not interfere with and gives way to any manned aircraft

• Prior notification to the airport operator and airport air traffic control tower any time the operator plans to fly within 5 miles of an airport. It’s important to keep in mind that there are several airports in Corpus Christi, and even if you are flying below 400 feet, you are still required to notify any airport within 5 miles of your activity. This includes CCIA, CCNAS and the airfields at Cabaniss and Waldron Road.

Commercial UAS use
If you plan to use your UAS for any kind of commercial activity, you are required to register it with the FAA. Even in this category, you are limited to a drone that weighs no more than 55 pounds. Drones operated for commercial activity must be labeled with your registration number. The registration cost is $5 and is good for three years.

A person operating a UAS for commercial activity must be 16 years of age and have a remote pilot certificate with what’s known as a small UAS rating, or be directly supervised by someone with such a certificate. The process for obtaining the certificate is laid out on the FAA website. If you own a drone, it’s recommended that you download the app, B4Ufly, which gives you access to all kinds of information about the general rules and even those specific to your area.

The proliferation of drones in this country creates both opportunities and risks associated with the sharing of the airspace. Drone owners are encouraged to know the rules before taking flight. If you would like more information about the rules of the road for UAS operations, please visit faa.gov.

Kim Bridger-Hunt is the marketing manager at Corpus Christi International Airport (CCIA). For more information, you may contact her at kimb@cctexas.com.

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