According to Recode, nearly 800,000 drones are registered with the Federal Aviation Administration to fly in the United States. In response to the increasing number of drones in the sky, the FAA wrote a number of regulations related to the use of drones for both private and commercial use. How are these laws affecting residents of the Golden State?
FAA guidelines restrict when and where you can use a drone including airports and national parks. As the mechanisms of federalism work, California is expanding on these restrictions to fit statewide needs.
Many of the new state drone laws address privacy and disaster response. As the number of drones in use increases, so could the law related to their use. What should you know about drone law in California?
Filming is restricted
Many people use drones to capture video of landscapes, but where you film matters as much as what you film. When using a drone over private property, the owners of the property have an implied right to privacy, as the designation suggests. When filming over private property, it is important to get the land owner’s permission first.
Don’t interfere with an emergency
You might know that it is illegal to interfere with emergency response crews doing their job, such as hanging out on the street too close to the fire department as they put out a house fire. This same notion can be applied to the use of drones as well.
While filming an emergency response could make for harrowing footage, it is restricted by the FAA. Last year, authorities cited drone owners for filming wildfire footage in Southern California because it put firefighters at risk. Not only can the unauthorized use of a drone result in arrest, but you could also have your drone shot down or confiscated and face civil penalties for any damage caused.
Understand the law before flying
What’s most important is that you understand the law before flying your drone. While operating a drone is a fun recreational activity for many, their use should not fly in the face of public safety considerations. Just as balance is necessary when flying a drone, the law seeks to do the same.
California is known for being on the forefront of new drug laws in the United States. The legalization of marijuana has spurned new and creative endeavors across the state. Technology drives many of these undertakings via smartphone apps and the blockchain. How does the law affect this kind of innovation?
Companies like Amazon are experimenting with drone delivery. The service is not widespread yet because they are facing obstacles from the Federal Aviation Administration regulations against flying drones for commercial use, but that isn’t stopping everyone. At the end of 2017, one California couple pushed the limits of technology and drug laws after allegedly using a drone to deliver controlled substances in Riverside.
Defining drone law
The couple faces charges of possession of a controlled substance for sale and possession of drug paraphernalia, but whether or not they violated the law related to drones is unclear. Because the use of drones both by consumers and businesses is emerging, laws related to safety or wrongful actions may be ambiguous, unclear or too broad.
FAA guidelines and California law restrict the use of drones for commercial purposes. With an understanding of these restrictions, it is easy to see why technology, consumer demand and the law might conflict at times.
Drone use is prohibited in some situations including:
- Flying over crowds at public events
- Flying over disaster areas
- Flying over national parks
- Flying at night
- Flying at high speeds
- Flying near airports
- Flying beyond the operator’s line of sight
- Flying multiple drones at the same time
As technology advances, it could better accommodate the use of drones for commercial purposes, though the law often lags behind technology.
Loosening or tightening restrictions on the use of drones in response to technological advances remains the work of lawyers around the country, and it is often driven – or flown – by business innovation.
If you own a drone, you would probably enjoy taking it to some of California’s most scenic areas in order to get one-of-a-kind pictures. If you want to go to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, however, you ought to leave your drone at home. Otherwise, you could find yourself in some trouble.
The Golden Gate National Recreation Area covers around 80,000 acres of beautiful California landscape that includes the Marin Headlands, Muir Woods, The Presidio and Alcatraz — and numerous points between and around those locations. That leaves a lot of area where the National Park Service began prohibiting the use of drones starting in 2014. This includes the Golden Gate Bridge.
Drones may be fun to use and handy in a lot of instances, but they can also be dangerous if improperly operated. The National Park Service is not only concerned about drones irritating and otherwise affecting visitors, but wildlife as well. Bird-drone collisions are not unheard of, and some birds will actually attack drones. As for the effects of drone use on humans, they could potentially cause pedestrian, motor vehicle and bicycle accidents.
So what happens if you get caught with a drone in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area? You will most likely face a hefty monetary fine and your drone could be confiscated. In addition, depending on the circumstances, you could face other civil, and even criminal, penalties. If you find yourself inadvertently violating the rules regarding drones in the parks, you may benefit from discussing your situation with an attorney who can help you find the best resolution possible to your issues.
California is no stranger to radical expression of strongly held personal beliefs. Aviation is just one of the many ways messages transmit across a large audience. However, anytime these attempts encroach upon the legal ordinances set in place, a legal matter is certain to arise.
Drone mission failure
In recent news, a man from California is facing criminal charges brought against him after scattering ‘anti-media’ propaganda over multiple NFL stadiums. The man used his drone to drop the pamphlets onto the field, which is illegal. The infraction happened when the man had his unmanned aircraft spread propaganda with his personally held beliefs about the media over San Francisco and Oakland stadiums.
The timing of these deliveries happened while a full crowd was present to watch two competing NFL teams play a game. The messages promoted free speech while denigrating television’s influence on individual’s beliefs, attitudes and behavior.
Legal consequences for drone operators
Drone laws may vary by state and city limits, but California has clear restrictions against flying drones within close proximity of public events. In this particular case, the drone flew during NFL games, violating a Santa Clara ordinance, stating drones may not come within 500 yards of the stadium. Anyone found guilty of breaking this or any other drone law is subject to hefty fines, permit revocation, and/or jail time. Understanding the laws about drones can keep you out of trouble with the law or help you in your defense should charges ever be brought against you.
What odd or unsafe uses of drones have you witnessed?
On December 13, 2017, President Trump signed a bill that reinstated the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) drone registry requirement. As a part of the National Defense Authorization Act, if you own a drone weighing between 0.55 and 55 pounds, you’ll now need to register your aircraft.
The FAA estimates that there will be 2.3 million drones sold this year. With that increase in aircraft, they seek to deploy more strict regulatory measures. The registration rule, however, has found itself on shaky legal ground in the past.
A complicated legal history
As drones surged in popularity in the early 2010s, the FAA took note of the dramatic rise in unmanned aircraft in the skies. In December of 2015, they required that all drones weighing between 0.55 and 55 pounds be registered at a fee of $5. The parameters meant that nearly every drone that was not a small toy had to enter the registry.
Drone hobbyists opposed the policy, and in early 2017 the registration rule was struck down in federal appeals court. The hobbyists argued that drones technically qualify as model aircraft. Previously in 2012, Congress passed a law that the FAA was not allowed place new regulations on drones.
Drone manufacturers and aviation organizations greeted the decision with mixed reviews. Some believed that registration would increase accountability and deter recklessness. The FAA continued to fight for the rule.
What does drone registration mean for you?
If your drone falls within the requirements, it will need to be registered with the FAA. You can do this online at the unchanged cost of $5, and you’ll need to keep your registration certificate with you whenever you fly your drone.
The penalties for failing to register your drone can be steep. Skirting the registration process can land you civil penalties of up to $27,500. You would also have the possibility of criminal penalties, which could be as much as $250,000 in fines or up to three years imprisonment.
How will the drone registration’s return impact overall airspace safety? Only time will tell.
What do you think of the FAA’s drone registry reinstatement?
The recent outbreak of wildfires ravaging Southern California has made for some stunning imagery. Across the web, photos and video capturing these unruly blazes have gone viral depicting what is often a breathtaking scene. These once-in-a-lifetime shots can be enticing for amateur and professional photographers alike, and you may think this is a perfect occasion to use a drone for aerial shots. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) disagrees.
On Sunday, December 10, the FAA issued several temporary flight restrictions (TFRs) for areas surrounding the Southern California wildfires. These TFRs apply to all aircraft–including drones–that are not a part of firefighting efforts.
Why the need for TFRs?
In the eyes of the FAA, these restrictions are being issued for a good reason. Drones can pose a serious safety threat to firefighting crews, and in some instances, even halt operations altogether.
In July, an Arizona man was arrested for flying his drone too close to the Goodwin Fire, which burned across 18,000 acres of the state. Arizona authorities charged the man with endangerment and unlawful operation of an unmanned aircraft after firefighting efforts were grounded and valuable time was lost.
Officials said the man put 14 aircraft and their crews at substantial risk by flying his drone above the fire. By issuing TFRs, the FAA is aiming to avoid this sort of incident in California.
Violating a TFR can lead to severe penalties
With the potential risk of pausing firefighting operations, TFRs come with harsh penalties for those who violate them. Flying your drone above the designated wildfire areas can bring fines of up to $20,000–a steep price tag for getting a snapshot.
As the Southern California wildfires continue to rage–in some cases spreading over nearly 200,000 acres–it’s important to keep drones grounded and out of the way of firefighting efforts.
What changes in drone flight have you noticed since the spread of the wildfires in Southern California?
Look in the sky: It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s … a drone?
Drones, also known as small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS), are the newest fun flying machines. But you can’t fly a recreational drone just anywhere. So where are the no-fly zones in the airspace? Read on to find out.
- Someone else’s private property – One off-limits flying space is in the air above a house or privately held business building.
- Military bases – Flying your drone over a military zone is a sure way to attract the wrong attention and legal problems.
- Airports – Anyplace where there are manned aircraft, including airports must be avoided.
- Roadways – Stay away from any area where vehicles are driving, including residential streets, freeways and highways.
- Out of your sight – You may not fly your drone anywhere you can no longer see the drone.
- Over 400 feet above ground – No matter how high your drone can fly, legally, it must remain below 400 feet off the ground.
- Large venues – Football stadiums or other sports venues are off limits for your drone.
- Crowds of people – Drones may not be flown over any gathering of people.
- Emergency situation locations – You need to keep your drone away from anyplace where the fire department, police, EMTs or other first responders may be working to resolve an emergency situation.
- Inclement weather – You need to be cautious of weather conditions. Does it seem too windy for a safe, controllable flight? Better pick a different day.
These are just a few no-fly zones to note. For further questions about where to take flight, follow-up with the Federal Aviation Administration.
Where have you flown your drone?
Unless you are living under a rock, you have noticed the rapid increase in popularity of drones in recent years. The use of these small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS) has become so common that drones are sold not only in specialty stores, but also big box stores. They can be easily purchased online — by anyone.
Let’s look at some positive uses for drones as well as some negative impacts and outcomes that may occur.
Drones can go where people sometimes cannot. For example:
- A drone can be deployed to assess an emergency situation, such as a burning building, with the camera-equipped drone flying in to see if anyone is trapped and needs rescue.
- Farmers can use drones to check on crops and even to conduct crop dusting.
- Drones are used to deliver goods, including necessities like food and medicine, particularly in remote areas. Amazon unveiled a new division in 2016 called Amazon Prime Air with trials that aim to deliver orders to customers within 30 minutes.
Anyone can purchase a drone. And although many people will respect the rights and property of others, some will not. Some people may have ill intentions; others may not care about invading someone else’s privacy.
Additionally, drones can damage someone else’s property, or breakdown while flying over private airspace. This could create issues of retrieval and consequences if laws have been broken.
Drones can be operated in ways that are “sneaky.” These stealth machines have the potential to operate undetected. This creates concern in several areas, including giving the ill-intended the ability to:
- Spy on people in their own homes.
- Stalk someone, including taking pictures and video without permission.
- Deliver harmful substances.
- Drones could even be used for such things as corporate espionage and terror.
As you can see from just these few examples, the potential afforded by drone usage is as immense as the cause for concern about drone use is real. And in any case, people who purchase and operate drones are responsible for knowing the laws about proper use. The full implications of the widespread use of drones will only be known as time goes on.
What good, bad or ugly uses do you foresee in drones?
Drones are a new kind of aircraft known as a small Unmanned Aircraft System or sUAS. Along with this new type of aircraft, new rules and laws are just starting to find their way through the government and legal system.
Many questions have already arisen about the legitimate and legal uses of drones, as well as the moral questions that accompany their use.
Who makes the laws?
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) creates the rules and regulations that govern this new frontier of aircraft. Additionally, the California Legislature has spelled out its own laws governing use of drones in California airspace.
Who owns the air?
One big question arising with drones is who owns the air. Are people allowed to fly their drones anywhere? When does the operation of a drone become invasion of privacy?
According to the California legislature, the invasion of privacy occurs when someone “knowingly enters onto the land or into the airspace above the land of another person without permission or otherwise commits a trespass” and if they do so in order to take pictures or video of people.
If the pictures or video are deemed offensive by reasonable person standards, the drone operator could be liable for an invasion of privacy. Others have argued that homeowners should only own the air 500 feet above their homes.
How many drones are out there?
By 2020, the FAA predicts sales of drones will reach 7 million, which means there will be many more drones using the airspace. Some positive and negative uses of drones are already known; however, no one can predict all of the ways these new machines might be used in the future. Therefore, laws will need to develop over time as the use of drones expands.
What experiences have you had with drones?