Tiny, powerful computers and sensors have made drones extremely easy to fly. Millions of people are having fun with drones, and this already huge market is growing rapidly. Next year, GoPro will release a drone, which will surely be a big hit with adventurers, and companies like Lily Robotics will soon be delivering “ultimate selfie” drones that leverage follow me technology to take awesome video. In the face of rapid technological advances, it’s natural to ask “Can regulations keep up? Or will outmoded ways of thinking stifle innovation?”
On December 17, 1903, when the Wright Brothers first flew at Kitty Hawk, NC, few could have imagined how our huge planet would soon be so intimately connected by airplanes. Before the invention of manned powered flight, it was essentially impossible to travel quickly and safely. Flight changed all of that, and today all one needs to do is go to the airport and board a jetliner, get whisked up tens of thousands of feet in the air, watch a movie, close your eyes, and boom… you’re in Thailand!
Today, a new revolution in aviation is underway. Drones are creating a new set of connections in the low altitude airspace — airspace which has been largely ignored since the Wright Brothers’ first flight. The next century of aerial innovation is happening at the local level, not across oceans, and it’s happening below 500 feet. Small drones are already performing important jobs for people. The future will bring incredible drone-enabled applications for our everyday lives. The applications we’ll most benefit from haven’t even been dreamt up yet, and regulators must be careful to not stifle innovation.
People often take aviation safety for granted. Traveling by airplane is commonplace, routine, normal. It’s no longer considered exceptional or risky. If people weren’t confident in airplanes, they would hesitate to travel, and our entire world would be a very different place. Aviation safety and the public’s confidence in the system did not come easily. Decades of debate, accidents, and investigations led to a system of best practices and regulations that are keeping us safe.
Our nascent small drone industry fundamentally believes that drones are doing incredible things for people, and will have an increasing importance in everyday lives. For the public to gain the same kind of confidence about drones that they have in the existing aviation system requires constant innovation within the industry directed at creating new technologies that can ensure safe and responsible integration of drones into everyday life. Organizations like the Small UAV Coalition and NASA’s Unmanned Traffic Management group are helping to shape an innovation-focused future for drone regulations.
The existing regulations for recreational drone operations in the US are actually quite simple and common sense. They are, however, generally completely misunderstood. The basic rules are:
Never fly above 400 feet
Keep your drone within visual line of sight
Don’t fly over people
Fly in accordance with a set of community based guidelines
If you’re flying within 5 miles of an airport, give notice to the airport