At the concert, at the parade, even at the local car show you’ve seen them. It’s inevitable to find a rogue drone flying willy-nilly above a crowd at any event where enough people make it tempting for an operator to get a “cool” shot. And playing by the rules you’ve avoided the same opportunity and often seethe at the sight. So what’s the proper protocol for dealing with your frustrations or correcting the concern?
We are a new industry. Yes, model aircraft pre-date even the FAA, but let’s face it, quadcopters have changed the dynamic and the rise of drones as an industry is still in its infancy at just coming up on 2 years from when Part 107 rules were ultimately established. With that said, the vast majority of industry leaders as well as the FAA have asked for drone operators to collectively self-police. Why? Well, there are dozens of reasons, including the lack of ability for the FAA (with federal jurisdiction) to be on every street corner to enforce, an inability to remotely identify an operator, and the challenge of determining whether or not a drone is even registered or the said pilot of that drone has the proper authorizations or waivers. But the main reason that might offer some eye-opening interests??? Other aviation segments have invoked self-policing models that have actually won over the FAA to keep them regulation free. Want proof??? Check out the regulations for Ultralights, paramotors, and hang gliders.
Now, how do we go about self-policing? The first step is to ask yourself if the drone operation is really reckless and posing danger to those on the ground or to manned aircraft in the sky. If the answer is no it is probably best to chalk up the infractions as benign and move along. This could be jealousy creeping in (why don’t I have my drone to get these same shots) or your own aversion to risk. Next, assess the possibility that the flier really could be flying by the rules. Is it possible they do actually have an airspace authorization for the class of airspace or is it possible they have the right FAA waiver and are they really flying “directly over” people or enough off to the side that they are actually compliant with regulations. But if not and you feel it appropriate to step in let’s offer some tips for the task.
- Approach the pilot in a friendly manner. Your goal is not to place them on the defensive, but rather to bring them into the fold. “Hey, what’cha flying?” “Looks like a Mavic – how often do you fly?” “Nice set up, do you fly here often?”
- Let them know you fly too. Sharing that you are in their hobby helps to start the conversation and mutual respect goes a long way.
- Ask them what CBO they belong to or fly by. This starts to clue you as to whether or not they even know the rules to begin with.
- Ease into the regulations. “Were you aware that flying directly over people runs afoul of federal regulations but flying enough off to the side it perfectly legal?” or “When flying here we have to call the airport that is just down the road, I can get them on the phone for you if you haven’t done your notification or sought your airspace authorization yet.”
- Offer to help spot – you could be able to “steer” them clear of further violations while continuing to work towards bringing them into full compliance.
- Suggest fly-ins and meet-ups in the area. Inviting them into the community means just that, inviting them to join fliers who take safety seriously. Having the rogue flier around others who do care may help to have safety start to be ingrained in them too.
- Tell them of resources for the rules. This can include suggesting they google Part 101 CFR or Part 107 CFR or it could even be pointing them to chat groups and forums that focus on rules like Facebook’s UAV Legal News & Discussion group.
Should the rogue operator want nothing to do with you or the rules and thumb the nose at your attempts it may be time to take further action – but again, only if it is truly reckless and endangering to people or manned aircraft. To escalate, involve local law enforcement. Call them. Don’t tell the operator you are calling them, just do it – even stepping away to do so. Engage with the LEO to give them the regulations and violations spotted. Ask them to follow up with a report to the FAA. Provide them with the FAA complaint system. Detail and document the full incident – names, times, place, what was being flown, how it was reckless / dangerous, airspace, officer names, etc.. Take that detail and open a complaint with the FAA complaint form. You’ve done your part to protect the hobby and industry. Some will call you drone police. Some may scoff at you. But the old saying applies…you can’t please all of the people all of the time. C’est la vie.