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It Shouldn't Be This Hard to Responsibly Fly a Drone (ieee.org)
114 points by gilad 37 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 145 comments



I don't know. As a pilot of a small plane, I'd say you need to spend at least an hour to plan a flight, if not more. Familiarise yourself with departure and arrival airport and alternates, the route, weather and airspace along the route (you do not want to wander into Class B or or restricted airspace by accident), TFRs (temporary flight restrictions), NOTAMs (notices to airmen), and more. If you're very familiar with a route, it might be less, and if it's a totally new area/route for you, it might be more.

If you pilot a plane, and you make a mistake, your own life is on the line.

When you fly a drone, you still constitute a danger to other aircraft and the people in it, or people on the ground. Why should you be subject to fewer rules, just because you are not aboard the aircraft, and thus not at risk?

Imagine remote controlled cars on the road. Should we allow some drunk kids without license on their computer at home to control cars on the road (and endanger everyone else), just because they are not in danger? Of course not.

So, my sympathy for people clamouring for less restricted drone flights is limited. Having said that, there are tools that facilitate planning a flight (in a safe and lawful manner), and having something similar for drones would obviously be great.


> When you fly a drone, you still constitute a danger to other aircraft and the people in it, or people on the ground. Why should you be subject to fewer rules, just because you are not aboard the aircraft, and thus not at risk?

Because a drone is a lot smaller and thus constitutes a heavily reduced risk.

> Imagine remote controlled cars on the road. Should we allow some drunk kids without license on their computer at home to control cars on the road (and endanger everyone else), just because they are not in danger? Of course not.

So, to borrow your imagery here: A bicycle is a lot less risky to traffic and people than a car is and thus you are allow to drive it without a license and punishments for violations are in general lower than for cars.


IMO the opposite is happening. The FAA regulates navigation of the air which includes drones and has fairly simple rules. The problem is when cities and towns try to get in on the action and (illegally) attempt to ban the use of drones because residents don't like them. This creates a number of problems for the FAA because the whole point of having an FAA is to have a central authority that has monopoly control over navigation of the air, rather than a fragmented system where you need permission from multiple overlapping jurisdictions. If you are flying a plane, you do not need permission of whatever city/state/small town you are flying over, it's enough to get the FAA's permission. But now cities are fining people for flying drones in FAA approved airspace and heights, and this creates all the pain for the individual drone user.


You can ride a bike without a license but you still have to follow the rules of the road. Same for a drone. You don't need a license but you have to follow the rules of the air.


Yup, and there are reasonable rules for drones (such as an FAA regulated flight ceiling of 400ft and you can't fly within 5 miles of an airport* ). Following those rules is fairly simple, and at least DJI's app makes an attempt to let you know when something is amiss.

Follow those rules and you're riding the bike path, not mixing in with major air traffic. Hence why flying a drone is nothing like flying an airplane.

* for certain definitions of airport


Keep in mind a flock of Canada geese can force down airliners. Can the impact break a windshield? Can it deform a prop? Maybe get stuck in the air intake? Will it cause pilot to change course unnecessarily?


In my home country every bird/plane collision is a safety incident that needs paperwork with the authorities, no matter how insignificant. Birds are a problem, and so are drones.

Existing European regulation is clear on drone operations: it is just as illegal to put in a restricted airspace without permission as any other man created flying object. You can go to jail over simply violating the airspace, even if no danger was even remotely possible.


I don't agree. A more apropos analogy to flight, based on the article, is if you do all your full scale due diligence, including following all rules set by the FAA, and then you get fined because buried in a small town's ordinance is a law saying you're not allowed to fly over a certain farming field, the result of that field's resident complaining that your small plane was spying and invading their privacy.

Drones present a much lower risk profile, so it is not surprising that drone operators are subject to fewer rules.

> Having said that, there are tools that facilitate planning a flight (in a safe and lawful manner), and having something similar for drones would obviously be great.

That... is exactly the subject matter of the article. The FAA, the government agency governing airspace in the USA, has an app that purportedly tells the drone operator when it is or isn't OK to fly. The problem is that the operator cannot rely on it, because of local laws which may prohibit drone flight.

The article's author was an AMA member, which means he has insurance. He is obviously the kind of consumer drone operator you want more of, he has downloaded the FAA's app and is trying his best to make sure he flies legally. The drone he's flying is a tiny 300g, almost "toy" grade drone from parrot.

It should not be this difficult to fly a drone legally.


> That... is exactly the subject matter of the article.

That's why I brought it up. My point is that it piloting drones should be carefully regulated, and violations harshly punished, but it should not be unnecessarily difficult to fly legally (as it lamentably appears to be).


Except for the fact they both fly I don't see the similarities between PPL rated pilots and recreational drone flight at all. Recreational drone pilots do not fly in what most people consider controlled air traffic. A drone flight plan shouldn't take more than 15 minutes: check Skyvector for TFRs and NOTAMs, check Airmap for restricted airspace, send a LAANC to the local ATC, check local weather, and finally check the flight area for obstructions. That is literally it. Most recreational drones don't have the range to go out of sight.

If anything if we are using cars as a metaphor. Drones are like dirtbikes. They aren't allowed on public roads. But can be freely driven on private property and BLM territories.


check Skyvector for TFRs and NOTAMs, check Airmap for restricted airspace, send a LAANC to the local ATC, check local weather, and finally check the flight area for obstructions. That is literally it.

That sure is a lot of military-sounding acronyms which I haven't the slightest idea what they stand for to end that with, "that's literally it".

If I was to guess, you have experience in piloting airplanes, and flying a drone would be in comparison, a lot simpler, but it doesn't sound simple.


I’ve done a few thousand flights in small airplanes and have spent an hour on flight planning maybe handful of times, and those were 8 hour routes in an airplane without GPS. 99% of times flight planning do not and should not take an hour.


Fair enough. I've mostly flown cross country to new destinations out of the Bay area and south, and with SFO, SJC, OAK, LAX etc. around you do want to plan your route reasonably well. And yes, the GPS can warn you when you're about to fly into some airspace, but I prefer to plan it as if I didn't have a GPS.

But you're right, most pilots on most flights probably do not take an hour to flight plan - but that's often because they've done so before.


I decided today to look into what I need to do to legally fly my drone in Canada. I've owned it over a year, but since new regulations came in I've been afraid to use it in case it was done incorrectly. What I've learned so far is that in order to legally fly my drone, I must:

1. Register the drone online for $5 (done, took 2 minutes).

2. Take an exam. They won't tell me what's going to be on the exam, but instead recommend I go to one of a long list of "drone schools" who have 'self declared' that they can teach what will be on the exam. The exam is $10, but who knows what these schools will charge or if they're even reputable.

3. Not be within 5 miles of most airports, or 1-3 miles from most helipads. (Didn't we convert to metric before I was born?). At least they've made a helpful tool with that https://nrc.canada.ca/en/drone-tool/. The tool also helpfully shows that oh right, most lakes are used for sea-planes to take off and land so avoid those too.

4. Never fly within 100 ft (30m) horizontally of any 'bystander', ie: they aren't with me flying the drone.

What this all boils down to is that there's no reason to own a drone anymore unless you own a very large property far from any populated areas. There is no place less than a 20-30 minute drive away from my home that I can even legally fly it. Even then, any park or place I might legally go to without trespassing will have too many people to be more than 30m from anyone else. Even the less-populated parks and recreation areas- how do I even tell if there's someone 29m away from me through a forest or behind something?

All the while: for what benefit? Who has been seriously injured in Canada by drone accidents?


1/2: ensure drone operators are familiar with the other rules. imo licensing should be required to purchase a drone with much stronger punishments against unlicensed operators, otherwise idiot operators will result in further regulations on use.

3. obviously necessary

4. Drones are a public nuisance. The sound, having a dot just floating in view, zipping around - it's annoying and even scary to bystanders.

I own and fly several drones, but I was relieved when America started banning drones from wilderness areas, national parks, and many state/city parks. The serenity of those parks is far more valuable than private drone photography / selfies.


>> imo licensing should be required to purchase a drone with much stronger punishments against unlicensed operators,

Until the drone police give you a ticket and take your license away. In combination with the near-blanket bans on drone use (see above) licensing would effectively mean you can only fly a drone until someone complains.

I work in aviation. I'm the the air force and used to be a pilot. The bans on drones are ridiculously over-inclusive. Miles from any helipad? There are helipads everywhere. The better scheme is to regulate them by mass and construction. They don't need extensive steel or ceramic structures. Biuld them out of aluminum and plastic. So long hitting them is less dangerous than hitting a duck, they should be given freedom at low altitudes. Allowing drones to do what they do best may reduce the need for other manned aircraft (short-haul cargo, floatplanes and such) and make the sky a less cluttered place at altitude.


They are generally regulated by weight at least.

I fly drones as a photographer/videographer and, for the most part, don't find the regulations too heavy handed. Worrying about distance from every single tiny airfield is the main one since, as you noted, they are everywhere (unmanned fields, helipads, etc). Applied as a hard-and-fast rule, this can be a bit much when you just want a tree-height photo of a building or similar.

I was in the US recently and took my drone (https://www.instagram.com/__serio__/ ). We were often in national parks, and there are also airfields everywhere so I barely found opportunities to fly. The official FAA app is a bit hopeless and it's often unclear about whether you're good to go or not. I think that a much better app from the authorities would be a major help. The casual drone operators I know in Australia make use of the official app here to stay abreast of options.


>The casual drone operators I know in Australia make use of the official app here to stay abreast of options

I'm in Australia and all the "casual drone operators" I've seen DGAF and just fly the buzzing menaces wherever they want, including in National Parks.

Are you allowed to fly drones over people in Australia? Because they do that too.


"Buzzing menaces". Are those the buzzing menaces causing roadkill on the roads into the parks?

Getting permission to fly in NT national parks is quite straightforward. My flights in other parks have been organised by tourism authorities. I don't doubt there are people (I suspect the majority are international tourists) pushing the rules. One thing I think doesn't help is that the official flight check app for drone operators often doesn't factor in national parks, or maybe it's if you don't have phone coverage in an area - common for parks.

You can fly within 30m of people with their permission. Not over people though I imagine that's subjective - directly over people? Roughly over people?


>"Buzzing menaces". Are those the buzzing menaces causing roadkill on the roads into the parks?

If you're trying to compare cars to drones then IMO, that is a false comparison. You usually need to use a car to get into the park. Cars have a purpose. People generally turn their cars off when they arrive and get out to walk around. Drones flying around dominates the area with their annoying sound for no reason.

Even though I hate consumer drones (especially in National Parks), I don't have much problem with people who actually go through the proper channels. I strongly doubt the annoying people are getting permission to fly.

On multiple occasions, I've had people flying their drones directly over my head while I was at a lookout. There is little more irritating than going out of your way to enjoy a bit of nature and peace and quiet only to have it ruined by an idiot with a drone, especially when it almost certainly is against the rules anyway. Can we not have a single quiet place?


My point is to consider your language. People had strong reactions to books, magazines, radio and TV as they were introduced. Each were considered the end of times by at least someone.

Let's look at some of your bits here: "dominates the area with their annoying sound for no reason", "hate consumer drones", "little more irritating than going out of your way to enjoy a bit of nature and peace and quiet only to have it ruined by an idiot with a drone".

Drones have a purpose, maybe it's just not something you appreciate. Cars dominate areas with their annoying sounds, and I'd suggest that you're more used to their sound so you tune it out. I've been to national parks in dozens of countries around the world and, like you, I appreciate peace and quiet, but I've heard planes and helicopters go over in almost all of them. They're background noise because they are not new, so no one gets outraged. Go to a national park almost anywhere central in the USA and the sky is streaked with contrails that impact every scene and photo for the entire day.

At Kings Canyon last year, someone flew a drone over the area and everyone looked up. Minutes before and after (in fact, most of the day), much much louder scenic helicopters flew a circuit and almost no one reacted at all. (You can get easy permission to fly a drone at Kings Canyon, you're just not meant to fly over the canyon proper and rim.)

Like I said, I suspect most flying drones in parks are not locals so they figure they'll be gone before someone sees their photos online and pulls them up for it.


>People had strong reactions to books, magazines, radio and TV as they were introduced.

All of those things are enjoyed in your own home without having an effect on others.

I did consider all the language that I used and that was the most diplomatic that I could muster for such pointless and stupid annoyance in the only land area we have that is relatively free of buzzing things.

I'm not a fan of Planes/helis/car noise either, but they are usually going somewhere, so they don't hang in a single area ruining the environment for 20 minutes at a time.

I dread batteries getting even better/cheaper so drones can ruin the environment for even longer.

I wouldn't care about drones if they would only fly in an area for the time needed to transit through that area, but they hover and annoy until the controller finally gets bored of irritating everyone around them.

What is the greater purpose of consumer drones that you refer to that I am overlooking? I mean other than, "wow, I'm controlling a flying thing"?


You obviously know far more about aviation than I do, but it's not hard to find helipads in urban areas where a crash would be disastrous, eg near hospitals (which are often near major infrastructure like freeways for the same reasons they have helipads).

A drone maliciously aimed at a helicopter's tail rotor could conceivably cause an accident depending on the construction/trickery selected by the operator, and a helicopter crash at a hospital has the potential to be a major disaster.


Ya, but someone who wants to down a helicopter with a drone isn't going to care about no-fly zones. The rules aren't meant to protect against the really evil people. They are to stop accidental collisions.

Getting a drone into a tail rotor would be very tricky. If the helo is in forward flight you would need a comparably fast drone to approach from the side, without being blown off course by the main rotor downwash. I doubt it possible. It might be done with the helo in a hover, but even there there would be only seconds of vulnerability. Say you get close enough, the tail rotor is itself another massive powerful fan. This wouldn't, couldn't, happen by accident.

The greater threat is pilots reacting badly to sighted drones. Fear of drones might well cause more accidents than actual collisions.

>> A trainee had been practising hovering about 15m (50ft) above trees ... Seeing a quadcopter flying towards them, the instructor had taken control. But he had clipped a tree with the tail rotor, causing the helicopter to crash to the ground and tip on to its side.

https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-42904204


> A drone maliciously aimed at a helicopter's tail rotor could conceivably cause an accident

A gun maliciously fired at a helicopter's tail rotor could conceivably cause an accident. A laser fired maliciously into the eye of a helicopter pilot could etc etc. Do we ban any of those brought near a hospital out of fear that a malicious actor would use them in the worst possible way?

A malicious actor can always find a way to cause problems. A benign but stupid actor is the one we should be regulating for, and IMO keeping your drone 50 yards away from a helicopter landing pad should be sufficient.


> 3. obviously necessary

One could argue that drones should be allowed to get right up next to helipads, lat/lon-wise, as long as they stay a safe distance away from the helipad altitude-wise.

There are helipads on top of buildings. If the helipad is at ~1500ft, and my drone never exceeds 300ft, then it's not endangering the helicopters, even if it's right next to the building with the helipad on it.

But instead, because of the way the law is phrased, if there's a helipad on top of a building in downtown, now I'm not able to film anywhere in downtown.

(This same argument could apply to airfields, but airfields "above" neighbouring geography are pretty rare. I guess you could be filming against the cliff adjoining Lukla Airport in Nepal?)


One could argue that drones should be allowed to get right up next to helipads, lat/lon-wise, as long as they stay a safe distance away from the helipad altitude-wise.

Pilots and ATC refer to these dimensions as laterally and vertically.


> This same argument could apply to airfields, but airfields "above" neighbouring geography are pretty rare.

Take a look at Congonhas (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S%C3%A3o_Paulo%E2%80%93Congonh...), it's a very busy airport right in the middle of a major city, and its runway sits higher than the roof of many of its adjacent buildings. As a passenger, landing there feels like you are going to land on top of the buildings until the last second. If a plane overruns the runway, it'll go downwards, cross a major road, and hit a building on the other side (yes, this has happened: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TAM_Airlines_Flight_3054).


I'm not sure it's feasible for police to enforce no-fly zones in 3D space. No way is someone from the ground going to be able to tell the difference between 275 feet and 325 feet.


The US already uses 3D airspace: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Airspace_class_(United_State...

The issue is the distance reserved is conservative so people slightly encroaching don’t instantly cause problems.


You're assuming normal operations. You have to take normal and emergency operations into account.

A drone near a helipad is an undeclared obstacle, and permitting any drone near a helipad increases the probability of a conflict.


What are you filming in a crowded downtown with 150 story helipad-topped highrises that isn't the inside of private buildings?


Things happening in the street, such as festivals/parades/protests.


It will be hard not to fly over people, doing that...

I don't think all helipads have so much restrictions around them. We are a few blocks away from one, and we fly drones all the time. Legally. It must be a matter of how the specific piece of airspace got regulated, who did it, etc. I also see plenty of FAA maps that were drawn very thoughtful and detailed, versus others where there's just a big circle around an object.


I don't think FAA regulations apply in Canada.


"Drones are a public nuisance. The sound, having a dot just floating in view, zipping around - it's annoying and even scary to bystanders."

Whenever someone raises this gripe about drones, I wonder how they feel about cars. I'm currently in my office, with the windows closed and a heater audibly running. I can hear trucks/buses and occasionally cars on a 30-50km/h minor arterial road two blocks away. I can hear every car that drives down the road a block away.

(I own two cars and two drones.)


> Whenever someone raises this gripe about drones, I wonder how they feel about cars. I'm currently in my office, with the windows closed and a heater audibly running. I can hear trucks/buses and occasionally cars on a 30-50km/h minor arterial road two blocks away. I can hear every car that drives down the road a block away.

I guess that his answer would be that this nuisance is good for the economy where flying a drone for entertainment doesn't. His argument was also about them being at at least 30m from bystander, which the nuisance is a good argument for.


I fly my drones to take photos for tourism purposes. Others fly to photograph houses/buildings for real estate agents. We pay tax and contribute to an economy. Obviously it's on a different scale than trucking, for example. I don't know anyone who consistently flies one purely for "entertainment" - it'd get boring fast.

OP talked about them being a distracting dot in the periphery. Like birds? People overreacted to books, radio, magazines, TV, etc - it comes with all new things.

I often think of the "but what about the animals" people in national parks. Those are national parks at the end of roads bordered by roadkill and with parking lots and shoulders absolutely flooded with cars, often idling. I am not arguing for drones all over national parks 24/7, but I marvel at reactions like OP's which could easily describe cars or dogs:

"Drones are a public nuisance. The sound, having a dot just floating in view, zipping around - it's annoying and even scary to bystanders."

As the article suggests, drone rules in the USA and Australia aren't outrageous, but the B4YFLY app is very poor.


> 3. obviously necessary

No. In my hometown the park where people have been safely flying model airplanes decades before the drone craze is 2.5 miles from the town's airport. 5 miles is incredibly restrictive and not justifiable.


4) That's a terrible way to make laws.

By that description we should ban dogs. Surely the number of people terrified by dogs far exceeds the number of people scared of drones, by a huge number.


Considering how the only reason we don't ban cigarettes is that they are too entrenched in society and the economy there is a precedent.


Just a satisfied customer, no affiliation. I did the combined basic/advanced course from pilottraining.ca and learned a ton.

A related thing that didn’t occur to me until recently: if you keep your all-up weight under 250g, all of those regulations go out the window and drop back down to “fly responsibly”. I’ve been working on drones professionally for a year now, and am just in the process of putting together a tiny kit for fun. This idea clicked for me when a Transport Canada-certified flight examiner sent me a really cool FPV video that was clearly flying around people. You can do a lot while staying under the weight restriction.


> if you keep your all-up weight under 250g

Are there commercially available drones that light? My Mavic Air is tiny, and it's still over 400g. The only way I can imagine making it under 200g and still able to fly is to reduce the battery to something that can only fly for a few minutes.


I don't know about commercially available, to be honest. I'm currently in my (sparse) spare time putting together the parts list for a relatively boring Whoop that will be FPV capable with extended flight time (say ~10-20 min).

In the professional work I've been doing, I've been using ArduPilot (which, despite the name, isn't Arduino-based). I'm debating whether to use ArduPilot or BetaFlight for the flight controller, but if it's possible weight-wise, I am going to try to squeeze GPS onto it to get more autonomous/stable flight out of it. We'll see how it all goes. Maybe there'll be a "Show HN" post in a few weeks :)


basically just toys below that weight, usually without even basic hover capability.


For off-the-shelf gear, you could definitely be right. I don't know that market very well.

For home-built though, you can definitely put together a rig that'll do GPS-based hover and other semi-autonomous flight modes. For example:

https://oscarliang.com/gps-mini-quad/


There is an entire class of first person flying micro drones called “CineWhoops” which combine first person real-time video and HD recording on the drone and have an AUW far under 250g. They are certainly a different flying and photography style from a DJI style photo rig, and I’d argue a much more fun one.


Coming up right away, both FatShark and DJI have announced digital FPV video gear that, if I recall, transmits 1080p. So long as they keep the weight down on the camera/transmitter, that should open up a lot of new capabilities too.


This kind of functionality should be in software, does is also directly affect weight (a bigger chip or similar)?


for what benefit?

Drones can be a rather severe nuisance and potential safety hazard when mishandled. As an example I was at the beach in San Francisco once, and someone flying an obnoxiously loud FPV drone was repeatedly buzzing everyone's heads, often just feet overhead. It completely ruined the beach for anyone nearby.

Even without such dickish behavior, the sound of a million angry wasps and the possibility of unwanted aerial photography is generally not a welcome addition to most of the places people want to go.


[flagged]


Because they're loud as hell, and because many drones lack mechanical redundancy, and because many drone pilots are incompetent.

There is also the matter of using drones to circumvent privacy fences, to see through windows not visible from the street, etc.


I imagine there are other laws/restrictions that handle privacy issues. No one I know with a drone has any interest in what is happening inside someone's windows and anyone with that intent is going to ignore regulations anyway.


Because if the drone pilot loses control and you get hit by a falling drone, you are guaranteed a trip to the hospital [1] [2]?

[1] https://robotics.stackexchange.com/a/2577 [2] https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-hereford-worcester-34936...


> Even the less-populated parks and recreation areas- how do I even tell if there's someone 29m away from me through a forest or behind something?

You pay to rent the space and put up a barrier. These laws were designed to allow drones used for filming (and ensure the production company has to cover the costs of ensuring safety for said filming.) They give no consideration to hobbyists, or anyone else who isn't making enough of a profit off of the thing they're doing in the air to be worth paying people to clear out of the area.

Basically, it's like food licensing. They only care to ensure that people trying to make a profit off of their food-service business aren't doing so at the expense of public safety; they don't care how many "food hobbyists" (e.g. parents who bake brownies for school bake sales) they prevent from engaging in their hobby in the process.


Except that the film industry in canada wants to do far more than film over closed sets. They want wide nature shots (this is Canada) and moving vehicle shots on public roads. The real estate industry (far bigger than film/TV) also wants to photograph houses from above. Farmers, also a huge industry, want them to spray crops. Police want to use drones to hunt criminals. Fire departments want them to scan buildings. Rescue groups want to send them over fields to find children. All of this requires flying in areas that are disallowed today. The current regs appease the aviation industry. That will change as other larger and more influential sectors make raise their voices.

In my personal experience, the drone rules are impacting aviation more than expected. The problem is that people are actually following the rules. NOTAMs are being issued to notify manned aircraft of drone activity. Large manned aircraft at thousands of feet are being redirected because someone with a 2kg drone is running a test.

Example of how complicated this can become for pilots: https://www.tc.gc.ca/en/services/aviation/drone-safety/notic...


Silly comment: a few of these could be done with a motorized helium balloon connected to a pulley with a rope.

Apart from being way less cool is it also under the effect of this kind of law?


That has been a thing for a very long time. Balloons are commonly used for lighting outdoors (reasons to do with shadows) but inevitably result in UFO reports if allowed too high. They don't work so well for cameras. Film/tv cameras are heavy. The balloons would need to be huge and ungainly.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7WI5DkC2IK0

http://www.airstar-light.com/en/cinema/


Wait, are you a) also Canadian, and b) saying that you literally cannot bake cookies and then legally give them to friends?

I could understand if a nursing/retirement home had its own rules for not sharing food, but this is actually illegal?

Edit: OP edited comment with a different scenario.


>Who has been seriously injured in Canada by drone accidents?

With all due respect, that is not a particularly valid point, I mean, the people that just got your 5 dollars (and soon will get another 10) will readily tell you how that never happened because unauthorized drone flying was forbidden before that happened and probably expect an applause or a pat on the shoulder for being so much efficient in preventive measures.


> Not be within 5 miles of most airports, or 1-3 miles from most helipads. (Didn't we convert to metric before I was born?)

Aviation uses imperial units (feet for altitude, knots for speed, and nautical miles for distance).


And according to this graph, the situation in Canada is even more complex: https://twitter.com/Peeardee/status/1169314278840528896


Sounds reasonable. About the 30m rule, they can be covered in less than 3 seconds by a non-toy drone. If I'm not the owner I wouldn't want it any more near (the privacy implications are another interesting matter).


Besides the exam, all of these have been requirements for flying RC aircraft for ages. It's part of responsibly operating a remote device.

Unfortunately, the influx of consumer drones has set the expectation that you should be able to fly anywhere you want. That simply hasn't been the case for any RC aircraft for a long time.


The rules in the U.S. aren't that different. I live equidistant between Midway and O'Hare in the Chicago area. O'Hare is one of the busiest airports in the U.S. and I don't have any problem finding places to fly. There are plenty of soccer fields and parks that are rarely used. Go early in the morning if you are particularly paranoid about bystanders.

I've found if you keep a respectful distance from people, nobody gives shit that you are flying a drone. If anything they're more likely to come up and ask questions, curious about what you are doing.


I think that's an important difference between a city like Chicago and a city like SF. For better or worse, people in Chicago seem more laid back.


do these rules apply for RC planes in Canada as well? I'm wondering if all hobbyists have to pass similar exams in order to fly RC planes or helicopters


Typically, things are defined by weight and not lift mechanism. In the USA, you can avoid licensing requirements by joining the AMA or a local flying club.


I have a very hard time taking most of the drone pilot complaining seriously. RC aircraft have been around for ages and subject to nearly all of the same regulations as modern drones.

The problem I see is drone manufactures marketed their products such that "they're just another toy". It's led to drone operators acting like they're entitled to fly wherever they want. Combine that with pressure to capture an incredible shot for Insta/Pinterest/etc, and you get people that have completely disregarded for long standing rules designed to keep people safe.

The reality is drones are able to operate in vastly more areas than RC aircraft have in the past. Clearance from bystanders/structures, height restrictions, airport proximity, etc have all been things RC operators have dealt with for ages. Problem is people don't just want to fly a drone, they want to operate them in dangerous manners and in places they really shouldn't.


The marketing point reminds me of my disdain for Rugged Radios, who flagrantly markets their radios without any hint that licensing is required. They won’t even indicate which bands are used by their radios, much less warn people that licenses are necessary.

Yes, people should be aware of their obligations, but the companies selling the products bear some of the responsibility for educating the customers, and absolutely should not be free to actively hide that information.


I fly recreationally with a Spark. There is a class B airport and a few helipads in my vicinity (urban city) and a large national park not far away. As long as there isn’t a TFR, rescue, or police operation not going in the immediate vicinity it’s not too difficult to let the ATC know you are flying. And if you use KittyHawk or AirMap you can submit a flightplan within the app.

Launching is a different matter and the author is right. You can certainly fly in a lot of places but touching the ground can be tough. Public parks can be difficult and depends on the whim of whoever is on duty. One park I flew out for months then one day a ranger tells me there is no flying there. Nothing is posted and when I go to challenge this imaginary rule it only made the ranger angry. Now I fly from public easements: sidewalks, river fronts, jetties, high tide lines. There appears to be no central authority. And the people who would try and chase you off don’t think they have authority there (lots of waterfront is Corp of engineering)


Summary: The FAA's B4UFLY app only tells you whether you can _fly_ a drone somewhere. It doesn't tell you whether you can _take off, operate, and land_ from there because that is up to the property owner (whether private or government owned).


Extended summary: Except over national parks. Over national parks you are allowed to fly, but not take off, operate, or land, and the FAA's app chooses to say you can't fly.


What’s the difference between flying and operating? If the drone is over a national park, isn’t it “operating” over it?

If you’re saying it’s permissible to stand outside the park and fly the drone in that sounds like the worst kind of hairsplitting to me and totally goes against the spirit of the rule.

As the purpose of the regulation is due to “this new use has the potential to cause unacceptable impacts such as harming visitors, interfering with rescue operations, causing excessive noise, impacting viewsheds, and disturbing wildlife.”

It seems like flying is what’s discouraged.

https://www.nps.gov/policy/PolMemos/PM_14-05.htm


> If you’re saying it’s permissible to stand outside the park and fly the drone in ...

Yes, that's exactly what I'm saying. They want to ban flying over the park, but they don't have the legal power to do so. So instead they banned a bunch of other things (launching, landing, operating) to make flying over the park as inconvenient as possible.

The hairsplitting that goes totally against the spirit of the rule, in my opinion, is not the hair splitting that lets you continue to fly over the park, but the hairsplitting that let them pass this regulation in the first place.


I’d imagine the NPS has a better understanding of the parks than people who like drones. I’m glad they’re making it as inconvenient as possible and hope they become empowered to ban drones completely from the parks.


I have no opinion of whether or not drones should be banned over national parks, and am happy to defer to them on the topic.

We live in a democracy governed by the rule of law though. I'm strongly against attempts to work around the rule of law by government agencies even if I think the outcome is somewhat positive.

In this case that means in order to ban drones flying over national parks they either need to convince the legislative branch to grant them the power to do so, or if the FAA has already been granted such power they need to convince the FAA to pass such regulations. What they shouldn't be doing (in my opinion) is work arounds like this trying to seize authority that the legislature has not granted them. (I acknowledge but disagree with an argument that this is not a workaround/splitting hairs but instead a legitimate use of their granted power)


Is it generally permitted in National Forests? If so, then the prohibition in National Parks seems totally reasonable.

Drone flying is a fundamentally antisocial activity. If you're doing it far away from others then that's fine, but I have no sympathy for the drone pilots in this thread complaining that they're forbidden from flying over crowded city streets or in similar scenarios. National Parks have tons of people in them, while National Forests are generally rather empty. Those are better locations for drone pilots.


There are no special restrictions on US national forests.


What constitutes as operating? Does the drone need to be completely autonomous or can I stand outside the park and remote control it?


"can I stand outside the park and remote control it" - Yes, I believe that is what the article says.


Here's a solution:

Congress should pass a law that says state and local jurisdictions must register their anti-drone laws with the FAA in a formal way by January 1, 20XX otherwise they are legally unenforceable.

Then there's a guarantee that what the app gives is valid information, and it's incumbent on local governments to make sure of that, and drone users aren't liable if they don't.


Does Congress have the power to do this? Genuine question. What enumerated power would this fall under?


Congress gets away with a lot in the name of interstate commerce and the general welfare, but I think the best they could do in this instance is threaten to withhold federal funds in the absence of such registration.


Commerce Clause. Although it certainly might be overturned by an unfriendly Supreme Court, it's sort of a gray area.

A parallel might be drawn to the concealed carry reciprocity act (https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/senate-bill/69) currently pending in Congress, in the sense that it would also prevent state and local jurisdictions from enforcing local regulations against individuals who met some Congressional standard (in that case, that they were registered for concealed carry in their place of residence). Constitutional scholars don't have a firm answer for that bill's constitutionality because it's sort of a unique proposed application of Commerce Clause power.


I have first hand experience with this as well. Trying to figure out where to fly a drone is nearly impossible and just makes you want to fly anyway.


If you are having trouble with Airspace issues, like here in San Diego, you can get automated LAANC approval for temporary operations using Kittyhawk. This now works for recreational operators as well. If it is confusing local rules, then I totally understand....


LAANC gets you approval (or not) from the local Air Traffic Control of the Airspace you're trying to fly in (through the FAA). It does not do anything for all the non FAA-regulated areas, which is essentially what the article centered around.

(I work for Skyward, who were the first USS that implemented LAANC.)


Yeah, it's local rules but also air space. I sit in the middle of like 5 airports or different sizes.

airmap.io is helpful


The article uses three different apps to determine if it's OK to fly a drone in a particular area. When all three said he was good he then did extensive google searches to find things as random as press releases where someone is quoted as saying no drones allowed.

If you used this level of due diligence on whether it's permissible to do anything, you'd find you're allowed to do nothing.


It's a shame you can't land or take off from a national park.

Rules and advises about using it would be better than the current prohibition.

I understand no one wants ten jerks flying their loud drones during summer time at Yosemite's most crowded areas... but this ignores the fact that you can drive 1h inside the park and find a place no one will be bothered.

Regarding dealing with wild life, etc. the best thing would be advises on how to deal with such an encounter. You can fly a small plane near a whale, and no one will complain... but try to fly a small drone 100m away, and suddenly, you'll be shamed for scaring the huge mammal.


I understand no one wants ten jerks flying their loud drones during summer time at Yosemite's most crowded areas...

But people do and it’s at best annoying to other visitors and at worst dangerous.

Two drone experiences come to mind...

First, hiking in Scotland. Some other guys had drones (3 or 4 of them in a group). Buzzing around what should have been a quiet, relaxing area. The noise was annoying and when the batteries died, the drones landed in less than ideal spots.

Second, camping in the Blue Ridge, at a full-service camp site. Guy in the next site was flying one around while drunk, at low altitude. Then, he passed out and left the drone on. Battery got low and stupid damn thing started calling out “battery low” every 5 minutes for an hour until it finally died.

People are jerks. This is why we can’t have nice things.


Thanks for your feedback, as an owner of a loud drone (Phantom 4 Pro) I really appreciate it. I'm going to buy the quieter new blades before using it again on any place where I can slightly disturbe others.


If there is truly nobody around to notice your drone, then you would be able to easily ignore the law as nobody being annoyed means nobody to report you. What drone pilots actually want is the opportunity to fly their drones in scenarios where there are in fact other people around.


As well you should be. Don't fly drones at low altitudes around wildlife, please. That sort of behavior is why people are calling for and making these more stringent regulations.


NOAA prohibits low altitude flights over marine sanctuaries in order to protect whales and other animals.

https://sanctuaries.noaa.gov/management/permits/aircraft.htm...


Well that's silly. A 1kg drone does nothing compared to Navy active sonar.

edit - Not sure about the downvoters here, it's an established fact. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/does-military-son...


The downvoters probably question the relevancy, not the factuality, of your argument.


Whataboutism is rarely if ever a valid response.


when you compare two activities with roughly equal harm, whataboutism is unproductive. when you compare against an activity that causes orders of magnitude greater harm, it starts to be a valid point.


I am doubtful a hobbyist drone would even be noticed by a whale if they collided.


Indeed you don't need to ban drones to address irresponsible use. National parks are some of best places to fly them


And I imagine if you were a dirt biker, you'd think many National Parks were an ideal place for them as well.

I get that some of the existing drone regulations, especially on private property, may be overly restrictive. I could barely fly a drone around my multi-acre property between general aviation airports and a nearby Army area.

I also get that striking appropriate balances for multi-use of federal land is difficult. For example, I'm perfectly happy to argue both sides of very limited snowmobiles in Yellowstone in winter.

However, other than individually-permitted commercial drone use, (or SAR etc. obviously), I see no scenario where hobbyist drone use in National Parks should be an allowable activity.


> However, other than individually-permitted commercial drone use, (or SAR etc. obviously), I see no scenario where hobbyist drone use in National Parks should be an allowable activity.

in total, US national parks consist of about 50 million acres of land. are you really saying it's completely unreasonable for hobbyist drone users to enjoy any of it?


Pretty much. I’m open to extremely narrow exceptions as in my snowmobile comment. But I suspect that would probably satisfy approximately no one who wants to fly drones or engage in other sorts of related activities that are generally prohibited in National Parks. There’s plenty of BLM etc. land where a lot of activities are allowed.


I think he or she is rather saying that they are not entitled to any of it, if I understand the topic of this article it is possible to have local agreement to fly in specific areas.


I don't think that 'responsibly' is the correct term to use here. Legally, perhaps.

The distinction is huge. Consider 'responsible drug use'. Is a 20 year old in a bar being irresponsible because they're in the US and not the UK?

(ok, they probably are, but in a different way entirely...)


No wonder people break the rules when they're almost impossible to actually find.


No different to all the other laws a citizen is expected to obey.

That's why there are tax agents and lawyers.


Sounds like an opportunity for someone.


https://www.foreflight.com/

An early iOS success story, founded in 2007, and recently acquired by Boeing. They are the dominant software company in this niche, and are well positioned to add a “UAS tier” subscription in the future.


Companies focused on traditional aviation _could_ have jumped into the drone market, but somehow they haven't as much, so that it's now growing its own, specialized players, such as Kittyhawk, Skyward (which happens to be my employer) and many others.

By the way, "UAS" is an unnecessarily gendered, self-important term that often doesn't even cover the subject. "Drone" has none of these problems, and it's what people "get".


maybe. it would be a lot of work to actually make the map accurate. you'd have to parse FAA airspace regulations and also federal, state, and local land use regulations. many of these might not ban drones explicitly, but be vague enough to possibly include drones. most people aren't going to be willing to pay a monthly fee for a service that tells them when/where they can fly their $200 drone.


Wherein the author discovers we have a federal system of government with diffuse responsibilities such that no one group has any clue what the other groups are doing.


So, long story short, run the app and then blame the FAA for a myriad bullshit rules 5 levels deep?

In reality perhaps what we really need is a queryable API for state and local laws? I know DC has their primary legal codex as a GitHub repo. Surely they could provide links where a state law or fed law is modified ?

With this many laws, and bureaucracy creating laws within laws with no oversight, how can we mere humans be expected to follow said laws?


I don't know, maybe the app is different, but if you go to:

https://kittyhawk.io/b4ufly/

with a browser this is pretty clear:

>State and Local Drone Rules

>B4UFLY shows airspace rules provided by FAA data sources.

>B4UFLY does not include local rules which may affect your planned operation – including your ability to land and take off your aircraft from certain areas. >While the FAA is the sole regulator of the National Airspace System and governs aircraft operations once airborne, entities such as cities, states, parks, and private landowners may regulate your ability to land and take off your aircraft from certain locations. Please make yourself aware of any local rules prior to your planned operation.

So, I understand the frustration in not having a definite, single, authoritative source, but the critique about the tool being deceiving appears excessive.


This is for sure going to be unpopular, but folks here need to hear it:

The reason for the byzantine complexity about drone regulation isn't that some Big Government is injecting its ham-fisted regulatory appendages into a problem that it doesn't understand.

It's that, for the most part, no one wants your drones in the air at all. People don't like these things. They're noisy. They're scary. Their operators tend to be pushy jerks more often than not. They just aren't what a median voter wants to see on a nice sunny afternoon in the park or trail or whatever. And those voters governments, at all levels, are responding to that desire.

Basically: drone operators are the mid-life-nerd-crisis version of skate punks. No one wants them hanging around either, and skateboarding regulation is at least as complicated as drone rules.


This post would be much better with just the middle two paragraphs, which make your point just fine.

The first paragraph is supercilious baiting and the second is a snarky putdown. Can you please not do such things on HN? We've had to ask you this repeatedly.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


>They're noisy. They're scary. Their operators tend to be pushy jerks more often than not.

This reads like the kind of pushback against the horseless carriage.

>Chicagoans called automobiles "buzz wagons" and "devil wagons." Reckless drivers were "scorchers," a word that originally described speeding bicyclists in the 1890s. "Auto Scorchers a Terror," the Tribune declared in 1902 — at a time when about 800 people in a city of 1.7 million had automobile licenses.

>The mayor, an avid bicyclist, threatened to crack down on motorists. "There are a number of young fools, who have more money than brains, who are running these automobiles over the boulevards at express time speed and they are going to get into trouble," Harrison said.

https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-chicago-auto-show-ear...


Have you HEARD the pushback of the horseless carriage lately, at least specifically on HN? It's pretty immense. Also that argument is pretty bad. There is a huge utility in driving. I allow you to drive because I need to drive too.

I allow you to drone because I need to drone too (doesn't quite add up to the general population, no?)


>Also that argument is pretty bad. There is a huge utility in driving. I allow you to drive because I need to drive too.

That's not the way it was when the automobile was first introduced. The general public argued against its utility, and made arguments that it was far more of a nuisance than anything else.

We're still in the infancy of the utility of personal drone devices.


What dang said. But I see a lot of similarities to jet skis when they were more widespread. About the only people who wanted them around—outside of some fairly specific settings where they were either needed or loud powerboats were already widely accepted—were other jet skiers. I saw more than one deliberate confrontation with a ranger at a state or local park.


So basically, NIMBY.


Not exactly. NIMBY "carries the connotation that such residents are only opposing the development because it is close to them and that they would tolerate or support it if it were built farther away." (Wikipedia)

Whereas drones, people just don't like them at all.


NIMBY has evolved into this catchphrase that means people who don’t want what I want.


I just had a neighbour fly their drone outside my window. It's really noisy and kind of causes anxiety.

So you can call it what you want, but I don't want it near me.

I'll give them a pass this once. Maybe it's new and they just wanted to try it out. But I'm definitely going to take steps to remove it if I hear it again.


Yes, exactly. Even people that like drones don't want a drone hanging out over their back yard.


I'm also guessing a large population of drone owners first reaction to seeing someone else flying one was: They're going to lose that thing and it's going to junk up the forest.

After buying the done: Let's go fly this in the forest!


> Even people that like drones don't want a drone hanging out over their back yard.

Sounds like that is a person problem, not a drone problem. That hypothetical person is a creep, drone or no drone.


This is a tricky one; maintaining people's safety/ privacy while giving drone pilots 'freedom' is quite a balance. For instance, in the UK you must maintain a physical line of sight with the drone at all times, this makes flying winged craft virtually pointless.

Right now the geo-fencing of where you can fly is very rigid, with no provisions for altitude and distance, this could be improved to include glide-paths near airports for instance. It could also be tiered depending on the pilot's qualifications (similar to scuba diving) and if the drone is fitted with a transponder, or if they have submitted a flight plan. With these, there's no reason a drone pilot can't have similar freedom as a helicopter pilot.

I think most of these problems stem from technology being ahead of legislation, as always.


> in the UK you must maintain a physical line of sight with the drone at all times, this makes flying winged craft virtually pointless.

Why do you say that? I've flown line-of-sight fixed wing RC airplanes before and it was loads of fun.


It would be a lot easier if the law clearly spelled out who owns the air, and if there was some way to push back on the FAA's unilateral decision making processes. Below this altitude, you own it. Above this altitude, government owns it. Is it OK for Amazon to make a drone superhighway 10 feet above my house?

In our state, even the governor has tried to get the FAA to stop routing jumbo jets so that they're causing noise problems several miles from the airport to no avail. Jets regularly pass by at 2000 feet or so even though the airport is several miles away. They didn't used to do this.

When a plane or drone flies over my house at low altitude, can I charge them a toll? How high up do I own? The FAA seems to assume I own nothing at all an inch above my land.


Yeah, it all depends. I certainly don't want people buzzing me with their drone when I'm out enjoying nature with my kids. As a result, when I take my drone out, I am very certain to be far from others, and not to bug them. By default, in our state, drones are not permitted in any state park, however I have flown in a state park in our state by getting permission two times (one told me no the first time, then said ok when I asked if they could make an exception since I'm FAA certified, fly very responsibly, etc).

There seems to be a need for an I'm-not-a-douche-bag certification that can be used to make exceptions for folks like myself. I try hard not just to be responsible, but also not be a douche bag with my drone.


It seems like the only solution will be for the FAA to flex it’s regulatory muscle on this, and become the sole authority on where you can fly a drone. Much like the FCC did with small satellite dish prohibitions. https://www.fcc.gov/consumers/guides/installing-consumer-own...


> It seems like the only solution will be for the FAA to flex it’s regulatory muscle on this, and become the sole authority on where you can fly a drone.

Or prohibit the FAA to make such many confusing rules, i.e. flex the regulatory muscle on what the FAA is allowed to do.


The FAA provides an app that tells you if the airspace above you is legal to fly in, and they even help you file flight plans with ATC if it’s required.

It’s all the other parts of the government that tack on confusing rules, in an inconsistent and confusing manner.


> At the absolute minimum, the B4UFLY app should not tell users that they’re “good to go” unless they are flying from an area where drone use is explicitly permitted, like national forests.

Even then... I thought I saw a sign asking people not to do that during wildfires so as not to interfere with firefighting operations. Do these things make it into some kind of temporary no-fly zone for drones?


Airmap app has been mentioned here and I use it for every flight. For my area, Sydney, it covers many local regulations as well as the usual air restricted areas such as airports. It also let's you submit flight plans which before available to authorities.

It would be great if the no fly zones could be uploaded to the drone itself so it would simply refuse to take off in those areas for instance.


> It would be great if the no fly zones could be uploaded to the drone itself so it would simply refuse to take off in those areas for instance.

DJI drones won't fly in no-fly zones.


OT: Why don't most quad-copters/toy-drones come with blade protection that also duct* air flow for better thrust?

* tighter clearances

https://img.eachine.com/eachine/products/original/201707/149...


Because during forward flight the inlet of the duct leads to turbulence on and shadowing of the blades, drastically reducing their efficiency.


Yeah, it'd be fun to have a drone, but not sure there's anywhere in Chicago I can legally fly it. Probably need a "drone park" like we have skate parks...


Try Spain, the rules here are so ambiguous and bad written that no one knows if there is indeed any place in the country where you can fly drones


Unless somehow you are part of the state.


In sum: FAA's B4UFLY app database of prohibited sites is incomplete.


All this fight against drones is purely TSA level fearmongering and security theatre.




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