The Blog

Who Decides the Fate of Commercial Drones?

Owning a drone and flying a drone is not the same thing, for the rules about being able to fully utilise the talent of drones, both commercially or for pleasure have been not exactly friendly or coherent.

We have somehow found an uncanny fascination with birds. We desire to be free as a bird and look forward to having that bird's eye view. Man has made that possible through marvellous inventions. Now he just has to make sure that his inventions are not caged. And if they are caged for how long would they have to keep their explorations underground.

Owning a drone and flying a drone is not the same thing, for the rules about being able to fully utilise the talent of drones, both commercially or for pleasure have been not exactly friendly or coherent.

Steve Girard who runs a website that sells images captured by drone woke up to a rude shock when he received a voice mail from one Mr Bobby Reed, manager of the FAA's (Federal Aviation Administration) Portland Flight Standards District Office in the US that said, "They'll be looking for you to pull down your website."

Though people have been teased adequately by Amazon PrimeAir, it never was able to leave its testing premises until April 2015. Speaking of testing grounds, the FAA has been receiving heat from commercial drone petitioners that the U.S. companies are coerced into testing their drones overseas, while the foreign companies have been given concessions for the same purpose within the Unites States.

The FAA's bureaucratic vaults are taking their own sweet time to provide a permit to test commercial/delivery drones, and by the time they come to terms with it - the petitioners are impelled to move on to the advanced models.

Paul Misemer, Amazon's Vice President for Global Public Policy, said, "We don't test it anymore. We have moved on to more advanced designs that we already are testing abroad."

For the time being, Amazon has been given the grant to test its drones under 400 feet and at a maximum speed of 100 miles/hour.

Since 2014, FAA has been kind enough to permit commercial drone use on ad hoc basis. Companies that intend to use drones for aerial photography, crop monitoring, bridge and cell phone tower inspections, tall buildings and oil set ups are relatively safe for receiving their drone allowance.

Brian D.Smith of Covington & Burling LLP, states, "The FAA has traditionally adopted a very broad view of activities that constitute commercial operations, In short, receiving anything of value is considered compensation. When traditional regulatory interpretations designed for aircraft are applied to drones, it often leads to very strange results."

One of the clauses that establishes the difference between droning for pleasure and droning for commercial purposes is the intent of the pilot at the time of flight. This eliminates the commercial intent of the pilot post the flight. A video footage shot for pleasure can later be sold for money and yet can't be deemed commercial. However, drone hobbyists cannot constantly "fly for pleasure" and later sell their captures made by drone for money, especially when they are contacted or cross-checked by the authorities.

Monetising from footages captured for pleasure is nothing new. People have been putting up exclusive and extraordinary footages for sale all the time. Just that, with drones, the stakes are on a higher note. Literally.

Critics are fuelling speculations about the real intent behind FAA trying to subdue minuscule pockets, especially considering the entire FAA is organised and maintained by a tad more than 4,000 inspectors in the U.S. who are responsible for orchestrating the panorama of aviation aspects like safety, including that of commercial flight.

The demand for commercial drones has come to such gravity that defence contractors are rolling up their sleeves and repositioning their identity to suit commercial purposes.

Arthur Holland Michael, founder and editor of the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College expresses, "The appearance of military systems is not an accident. In the past couple of years, large defence contractors have been positioning themselves to claim a part of the commercial drone market, which is likely to surpass the military market in size once full regulations are enacted."

In UK, the rules are pretty clear about droning. If the drone weighs less than 20 kilos and is flown not within 150 meters of a congested area and 50 meters of a person, vessel, vehicle, and you have complete control of the drone and is well within your sight - all this keeping in mind that your purpose is not of commercial determination, you are good to go. If you want to go beyond the permit of 400 feet in altitude and 500 meters in radius horizontally, an explicit permission of CAA (Civil Aviation Authority) is deemed mandatory.

Commercial drones are big in Germany. Every commercial drone is required to have a licence, and without an explicit permit, the drones for pleasure are to be under 25 kilos.

India is easy on its drones. Below 300 feet, away from security establishments and airports, the world is yours to play with.

AESA - Spain's State Agency for Air Safety has perplexed its skies about the drone concern. At first they put up a ban, then they asked the drone agents to obtain permissions (the same kind as one would require to shoot with helicopter). Currently, Spain is okay with the drones flying around, however, they are insistent that it has got to be not in an urban area.

The land down under, Australia, is relatively a straight shooter when it comes to regulations about drone laws. Drones must not fly at night. 20 meters is the clearance range. The specialist drone pilots can get this limit down to 5 meters.

Drones are fun, engaging, productive, and provide a vantage that is far superior from man's POV. However, a highly explorative object like drone needs to be regulated and have the accord of either the public or government or both.

That said, drones will soon be dictating the way forward when it comes to exceptional aerial imagery, super-fast deliveries, managing facets normally unfeasible by our natural abilities, and of course for the sheer joy of taking something higher and further than actually being in it. Regulations on drones are expected to be clear, uniform and universal without having to guess or estimate the scope and usability of the droning requirements constituted in the present day and future.