Opinion by Local Drone expert Barry Gabler
This week I am visiting Cape Charles with the family for the week. I decided to take my drone for a flight at the furthest point on the public beach near Bay and Washington. I wanted to get some video of the shoreline as well as view property we bought in town from the air. I was flying at about 325 feet in the air. As I was flying, a car pulls up and parks and the family, which had kids, all poured out. As they walked past me, the mom said, “Hey can I take a look at what you see?” She knew I was flying a drone. I said, “sure.” I showed her and her husband, as well as the children, what Cape Charles looks like from 350 feet in the air on my IPad screen. They thought it was absolutely beautiful and admired the beauty of the town. I try to be respectful to those around and not fly right at sunset time as I know there are tons of people that sit on the beach to relax and watch the sunset and don’t necessarily want to listen to the hum of the drone. So you see, we can have pleasant experiences with a drone.
I understand that all owners of drones probably aren’t as mindful and courteous as me, however I don’t believe having a town create regulations, that the FAA has jurisdiction over, is the right thing to do. Virginia has introduced several passages of legislation over the last several sessions that have started to address drone concerns. The initial concern was law enforcement using drones for surveillance without a warrant. Several other bills have not made it past the House and Senate. The FAA has been moving towards addressing many concerns especially in the commercial space. This is the area you have to watch. With companies like Amazon wanting to deliver using drones right to your house, how do we insure our safety? Recently the FAA released part 107 UAS regulation. This applies to those wishing to use drones for commercial use only. For those who operate as a hobbyist, their are only safety guidelines that are suggested by the FAA. If I’m flying as a hobbyist over a beach in a public area, you can’t call the FAA or the police. Virginia State legislation does prohibit drone use in state parks, so if I fly in a Virginia State park I could be fined.
Privacy laws are the weakest point in the drone space currently and monthly it’s being challenged in courts as citizens attempt to take fate in their own hands by shooting down drones thought to be flying over their property. Some cases the drone owner was successful in suing the individual that shot down their drone and in other cases the judge sided with the property owners. Of course in most jurisdictions a gun owner cannot simply discharge a weapon in the air as it endangers those around them. Some feel that the FAA regulates from above the grass blades in your back yard to space. There are existing peeping tom laws in most states that would prohibit someone from flying a drone in your back yard and looking through your window. The gray area is at what height is considered private above your house? Certainly take a look at Google street view and Google maps satellite view. They have a 1 meter resolution still image of your entire property and drive by photos of the front of your house. Now granted they aren’t real-time, but they are of much better quality and resolution than a drone taking a photo from 300 feet in the air.
On the positive side, there are many wonderful things that drones can do and will be able to do. Like self driving cars, we just have to have regulation catch up to the technology. Did you know that UPS has partnered with a US company named Zipline. They flew drones over Rwanda to deliver medical supplies by dropping them by paper parachute. Many roads are washed out and make it difficult for timely deliveries of medicines. This is just one example of the positive uses that are coming out from this technology.
I truly believe the world is a place where both the drone technology and man can exist in harmony.