Dealing with drones: Keeping the crowded skies safe

Drones have revived the debate over privacy and protection

(WIVB)

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Fifty dollars at the grocery store could buy you an entry-level drone. Want an advanced model? Prepare to pay a thousand dollars or more.

Drones have revived the debate over privacy and protection — rights and regulations, but like them or not, the drone days are here.

Todd Salansky has spent the past two years flying for Norris Clifton Aerial Photography.

“We’ve been taking pictures for over a hundred years, and we’ve had to go up in a helicopter and airplane and that was interesting. Now, with drones you can actually line up the camera at the angle you want and hover there for as long as you need to get that shot that you want.”

On a recent sunny and unseasonably warm December day, News 4 sat in for a flight lesson at Delaware Park. Salansky offered an introduction to colleague Eric Robinson.

“This is down. This is up. This is turn left. This is turn right,” Salansky said as he demonstrated use of a handheld controller with an i-Pad attachment. Within minutes, the drone launched.

Salansky offered words of warning. “It’s kind of windy today. Another thing to look for before you fly [is] power lines… [and] look for trees.”

His YouTube videos show his extensive experience filming from drones.

“I’ve flown for real estate. I’ve flown for construction. Weddings, events, landscape. I’ve actually flown internationally. I shot a wedding in Norway. I shot a school in Moscow. I shot another wedding in Budapest,” Salansky recalled.

Robinson loved getting a chance at the controls.

“[It’s] similar to a video game. There were some slight variances, but growing up in the 90’s, it was kind of easier to pick up than I think most people would have [thought],” he said.

Rules and regulations

So far, the FAA has kept the rules somewhat simple: stay below 400 feet, stay five miles from airports and keep your drone in sight. The agency produced this video to highlight those requirements.

The new drone registry hopes to reinforce those guidelines while underscoring a level of operator responsibility.

READY TO REGISTER? | Registration opens December 21

“We expect hundreds of thousands of model unmanned aircraft will be purchased this holiday season,” FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said in a prepared statement. “Registration gives us the opportunity to educate these new airspace users before they fly so they know the airspace rules and understand they are accountable to the public for flying responsibly.”

Existing drone users must register by February 19. If you buy a drone after December 21, you have to register before you fly. The FAA says you’ll need to give your name, home address and email. According to the FAA website, “The web application will generate a Certificate of Aircraft Registration/Proof of Ownership that will include a unique identification number for the UAS owner, which must be marked on the aircraft.”

IN DEPTH | Read the entire FAA Rule

Solansky supports the new drone registry, but he wonders what it’ll accomplish.

“Anybody who wants to do anything unsavory won’t register for the drone registry,” he suggested.

Legal debate

“You can’t regulate stupid, and unfortunately, a lot of what we see is stupid people doing stupid things,” Buffalo attorney Mickey Osterreicher said. “If you are deemed to be flying either recklessly or carelessly, you can be fined,” he noted.

Osterreicher fights for the rights of press photographers nationwide. He thinks the registry will help but believes crucial questions still must be addressed.

“What happens when you fly over property who you don’t know who the owner is or you fly over a condominium? Do you have to get everybody’s permission in the condominium,” he questioned.

The rapid spike in sales has led to renewed privacy concerns for homeowners. We asked Osterreicher what to do if a drone flies over your house.

“Unless it’s really bothering you, I’d suggest doing nothing,” he suggested. “I mean planes fly over us all the time. Helicopters fly over us all the time. Drones only fly for ten or twenty minutes. That’s how long the batteries last,” he said.

Local police and sheriff’s departments would likely respond to calls about drones causing problems. News 4 contacted Buffalo Police and the Erie County Sheriff’s office. Neither agency was able to provide documentation about issues with drones this year.

Drone consultant’s perspective

“You know you’re not going to be looking in someone’s window,” drone consultant Matt Sloane said. Sloane understands critics’ concerns and the issue of potential spying. He suggests, “It’s much more dangerous if you have a camera on the ground with a very long zoom lens on it, you can actually see a whole lot more.”

Safety remains a concern, especially because of our location along the border.

“I think the biggest thing is to know you’re actually flying your drone in the national airspace. So there are planes and helicopters, big planes, small planes, people skydiving. All sorts of things. You just need to be aware of your surroundings,” Sloane reminded users.

He also supports the newly implemented registration. “[It] just adds a layer of responsibility to it, so that you don’t just take your drone and go out and do something crazy. It sort of forces you to go out and look at the rules and regulations before you go out and fly your drone,” Sloane said.

Final advice

The new registry does not appear to require drone education, but the experts we talked to believe that day is coming.

“It’s just like normal life. You’re always held liable for anything that you’re responsible for,” Solansky suggested.

The interim FAA report’s authors wrote, “While the Task Force did not make a specific recommendation on encouraging accountability and responsible use of UAS outside the registration process, it asserted within its report that operator accountability and responsible use were its principal goals of registration. ”

According to Osterreicher, “If you are deemed to be flying either recklessly or carelessly, you can be fined.”

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