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FAA Revises Drone Rules: What Will & Won’t Fly

27 Jul, 2016

By: Mary Helen Sprecher
Up, Up but not too Far Away: What Sports Planners Need to Know

Up, up and away – within limitations.

The use of drones in sports continues to be an emerging field of study and accordingly, the Federal Aviation Administration has revised its rules – again.

The latest set of rules regarding unmanned aerial systems or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAS or UAV for short), available in full here, will take effect in late August.

As a side note, the regulations address small UAS units, defined as no more than 55 pounds in weight.

According to ComputerWorld, the new rules replace a series of temporary restrictions that have required thousands of companies to apply for special permission to use drones as part of their job. Many of the rules are similar to the temporary restrictions including the requirement that drones be kept within line of sight of the operator at all times.

(As an aside, too bad for Amazon, which wanted to institute drone delivery of parcels.)

The ramifications for the sports world also continue to evolve. Drones have been viewed as a threat and a distraction (as evidenced by the unauthorized presence of one at the U.S. Open in New York last year),  but also as an asset, since they can help coaches record everything from football formations to choreography of marching bands and drum lines.

According to ComputerWorld, another part of the new ruling will allow drones to operate through twilight hours if they have anticollision lights. (Currently, UAS are limited to daytime use.) Many other aspects of previous rules remain unchanged:

  • Drones cannot operate over people not associated with the flight

  • Drones must yield to other aircraft

  • They cannot fly above 400 feet.

In addition, the new rules lay out exactly where the drone can fly. Operations are allowed within most airspace with air traffic control clearance, but never around major airports.

Three designations now apply to drone use, according to a recent article in Athletic Business:

  • Model: Pertains to hobbyists and others flying UAS for fun and recreation.

  • Civil: A civil designation applies to a drone whose operator uses it as a part of his or her job, or whose operator is using it to take photos or videos for which he or she is being paid.

  • Public: Public designation applies only to government use, and often military. Also classified as public are uses for search and rescue, firefighting or law enforcement.

To operate a drone for commercial use, the FAA will require some knowledge of the rules of the sky, either through a remote pilot certificate, which is a new certification the agency is preparing, or a student private pilot's license. (By contrast, hobbyists can fly drones without either of the two licenses, something analysts say may create a problem down the road, since anyone could potentially claim they were using a drone for fun – and that they were unaware of the rules.)

So specifically, what does this mean for sports event planners? According to the article in Athletic Business, “temporary flight restriction areas exist over professional sports venues such as NFL stadiums, MLB ballparks and larger collegiate venues. According to the FAA's restrictions, Unmanned aircraft and remote-controlled aircraft are prohibited within a 3-nautical-mile radius up to and including 3,000 feet above ground level of any stadium having a seating capacity of 30,000 or more people where either a regular or post-season Major League Baseball, National Football League, or NCAA Division I football game is occurring. … Flights conducted for operational purposes of any event, stadium or venue and broadcast coverage for the broadcast rights holder are authorized with an approved airspace waiver."

And for events in smaller venues, where an unauthorized drone might be sighted, or for those who are worried one might be used to gather information without permission, the AB article notes that there are still actions to be taken:

“It's important to note that simply registering a device with the FAA does not correlate to carte blanche regarding its operation. Operators must also also adhere to state and local laws and ordinances. First, those suspecting illegal use should find out if the drone is registered. If it is, it's the responsibility of the operator to be aware of the restrictions placed on its use. "If you find one flying around and causing problems, you should be able to look for that registration number," Lynn says. "The number should be marked visibly."

The FAA is not a disciplinary entity but can impose civil fines and jail sentences for operators in violation of its core restrictions. More commonly, enforcement of drone regulations will be handled by local law enforcement. "When you're on the ground, you're in one jurisdiction, take off and it's another," says Lynn. "The FAA can impose civil penalties for being careless and reckless or in violation of a Certificate of Authorization. On the ground side, city ordinances, local law enforcement are the teeth."

The FAA provides guidelines as well as a reference card for local law enforcement officers to follow if they suspect a drone is being flown in an unsafe or unauthorized manner. In addition, local entities can impose penalties based on local ordinances prohibiting drone use (ordinances that may or may not be pre-empted by the new FAA regulations).

To help promote safe use of drones, the FAA also has a "No Drone Zone" outreach program that provides signage to alert operators when they have entered an area that does not allow drones. Such signage has been used at NFL games and college campuses to help raise awareness. The FAA also offers a mobile app that helps users determine if they're in a no-drone area, a hotline for reporting unsafe drone use, and an educational website (knowbeforeyoufly.org).”

PC World notes that the FAA regs exclude key privacy provisions, including a requirement that commercial and government users of drones must disclose if they collect personally identifiable information of a person. This has become a sore point with civil rights groups, which have demanded drone privacy regulations.

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