Wouldn’t it be great to inspect the leaky steeple without climbing out the tiny tower window onto the slippery slate roof or renting a wobbly bucket truck? And can you imagine how happy the school Centennial committee would be to get an aerial photograph of the campus without hiring a pilot? With drones, these bright ideas are not just wishful thinking. They are solidly within the realm of the possible but, like so many other innovations, their use requires training and caution.
Drones are unmanned aerial devices that range in size from urban pigeons to passenger jets. They can be equipped with cameras or other data-collection equipment and are already in use throughout the United States in public safety, agriculture, environmental and disaster-monitoring contexts. There are serious concerns about drone use which are largely unaddressed by nascent regulations. In general, insurance coverage is neither required nor available for hobby use of drones. Nonetheless, unsafe use of drones can be a liability. The primary concerns are the quality of the equipment, the skill of the people flying it, and the environment in which they are operating the drones.
Effective December 21, 2015, anyone who owns a small, unmanned aircraft of a certain weight must register with the Federal Aviation Administration's Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) registry before they fly outdoors. People who previously operated their drone must register by February 19, 2016. People who do not register could face civil and criminal penalties.
Who Must Register a Drone
The owner must be:
- 13 years of age or older. (If the owner is less than 13 years of age, a person 13 years of age or older must register the small unmanned aircraft.
- A U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident.
How Do I Register My Drone?
It costs only $5 to register. The process is simple and web-based. You will need the following to register:
- An email address
- Credit or debit card
- Physical address and mailing address (if different from physical address)
Your registration is valid for three years. Once you receive a registration number, you can use it on all of your unmanned aircraft if they meet the online registration criteria. You must mark the registration number on all aircraft you own. To register your drone, go to: http://www.faa.gov/uas/registration/
General Guidelines When Using Drones
To help ensure personal and property safety, please follow the guidelines below when operating your registered drone:
- Fly below 400 feet and remain clear of surrounding obstacles.
- Keep the aircraft within visual line of sight at all times and use an observer to assist, if needed.
- Remain well clear of and do not interfere with manned aircraft operations.
- Don't fly within 5 miles of an airport unless you contact the airport and control tower before flying. This is a tough requirement if you are in the 5 mile zone, but critical to observe.
- Don't fly near stadiums.
- Remain at least 25 feet from people and vulnerable property.
- Don't fly an aircraft that weighs more than 55 pounds.
- Do not fly in adverse weather conditions, such as high winds, reduced visibility or rain.
- Never fly under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
- Ensure the operating environment is safe and that the operator is competent and proficient in the operation of the drone.
- Do not fly near or over sensitive infrastructure or property such as power stations, water treatment facilities, correctional facilities, heavily traveled roadways, government facilities, etc.
- Check and follow all local laws and ordinances before flying over private property.
- Do not conduct surveillance or photograph persons in areas where there is an expectation of privacy without the individual’s permission.
- Don't be careless or reckless with your unmanned aircraft – you could be fined for endangering people or other aircraft. If a drone loses power, or its operator loses contact, it could crash into to people or building being photographed and cause personal injury and property damage.
People who fly drones for commercial purposes, such as the photographer who records a wedding at your parish, may need specific FAA authorization. Additional information is available from the FAA at https://www.faa.gov/uas/
Drones have great potential to help parishes and schools assess property conditions and record significant events. Due to the many regulations and requirements surrounding the lawful operation of a drone, the ability to comply with local and federal laws must be considered before operating a drone.