T-R Special Report: Popularity of drones, regulations on rise; 550K unmanned aircraft registered with FAA

Sep 19, 2016 | Flite Test

Original article from Alex Knisely with Times-Reporter 

New rules created by the Federal Aviation Administration regulating the use of drones for commercial use went into effect Aug. 29. Rules now vary for drone use for work or pleasure, and require users to register their flying machines with the FAA.

Love is in the air and it's in the form of an unmanned aircraft system — commonly referred to as a drone.

They're not the large aircraft with no pilot that are used for combat. They're the smaller ones you may sometimes see zigzagging through the skies in the Tuscarawas Valley.

Sales of the electronic quad-copters, appealing to both young and old, have skyrocketed.

Drone sales over the last year more than doubled to about $200 million. The NPD Group Inc., a market research company, accounted for the sales from April 2015 to April 2016.

Additionally, drones were a hot item back in the holiday season with units selling 445 percent higher than the 2014 Christmas season.

The remote-controlled aircraft comes in different sizes. Smaller models can cost under $100 while larger machines with more options can range from $100 to $800. They can be purchased at stores, such as Kohl's, JCPenney, RadioShack and Sears, and online at Amazon.com.

The Associated Press reported that in the nine months since the Federal Aviation Administration created a drone registration system, more than 550,000 unmanned aircraft have been registered with the agency as of Friday. They're coming in at about 2,000 registrations a day.

A different perspective 
One of those registered pilots is Dover resident and drone aficionado Mike Lawver, who has seven drones that he uses for fun and for his job as a GIS map coordinator for an RE Warner & Associates office in Canton. Some of the flying machines, whether they're remote-controlled or programmed to fly on their own, have the ability to take photos and shoot video footage.

As a photography and flying enthusiast, Lawver said he thought a drone "would be a great way to combine the two." As a map coordinator, Lawver can fly a drone over a piece of property to take pictures that can later be turned into topographical maps.

Lawver is an administrator of the Tuscarawas County Drone Footage Facebook page. The group has over 3,200 members who can see local drone photos and videos of fireworks displays, aerial views of landmarks, such as Crater Stadium in Dover, sunset landscapes and construction at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton.

"This is a perspective most people don't ever see," said Lawver.

As popularity grows, the federal government has stepped in to control and regulate a drone's flight, whether it's for fun in the backyard or commercial use.

Good or bad?
On Aug. 29, new drone regulations created by the Federal Aviation Administration took effect.

The rules — titled Part 107 of the Federal Aviation Regulations — offer safety regulations on drones weighing less than 55 pounds that are being used for purposes other than hobby or recreation. Now, regulations vary for work and enjoyment.

"I think it's a good thing," said Josh Bixler, president of FliteTest. "There's a lot of things going on (the drone operator) needs to be aware of. What the FAA has come up with is a format that gives the ability to fly (drones) in the airspace."

FliteTest is a Lauren International company that emphasizes the hobby and education of flying remote-controlled aircraft. FliteTest teaches consumers how to build custom flying machines and produces videos designing and reviewing homemade inventions.

FliteTest uses drones to fly along with the aircraft it builds and to gather footage for videos.

New rules put in place last month outlaw flying drones higher than 400 feet in the air or faster than 100 miles per hour. They cannot be operated directly over unprotected people who are not involved in the purpose of the flight. Pilots are required to keep the machines within a visual line of sight and fly them only during daylight hours. If the drone has a anti-collision lights, they can be operated at dawn and dusk. Pilots using a drone for commercial use must be 16 years or older and obtain a pilot airman certificate issued by the FAA.

The FAA anticipates 1.3 million licensed drone pilots by 2020, replacing a previous forecast of 1,343.

"I have mixed feelings," Lawver said about the new rules. "What bugs me is you have to have (certification) if you're flying commercially. I don't think it solves the issue for safety. A kid could fly wherever, but someone in a business has to have restrictions. Some of these recreational drones can fly four miles away, and there's no policing if you are in a visual line of sight."

Commercial use of a drone can include providing aerial surveying or photography services, or doing roof inspections or real estate photography. Non-commercial use would include flying a drone for educational or recreational purposes. Pilots do not need to be certified to fly a drone as hobbyists.

When using a drone for work or play, airports within a 5-mile radius of the drone's intended flight path must be notified. The drone must also be registered with the FAA.

Staying safe
Drone regulations have been previously put in place, but the recent provisions are designed to minimize risks, the FAA has advocated.

Controllers must report to the FAA within 10 days any operation that results in serious injury, loss of consciousness or property damage of at least $500.

Bixler said pilots at FliteTest will go through with being certified drone operators "to practice what we preach as far as being safe and legal."

Lawver, who has a private pilot's license, took the certification test at an examination center in Akron on Aug. 29, the same day the FAA's regulation went into effect. He said the test has a lot to do with airspace and navigation of manned and unmanned aircraft.

"There's a lot that goes into it," he said about the 60-question exam.

Drones come in all shapes, sizes and colors. Some can include features other types don't have, such as the ability to take photos or video or have a Bluetooth connection. Some can be GPS-programmed and not require a human to control it.

"Airspace is getting more and more crowded," said Bixler. "So, this is a practical way to have respect for airspace. (The regulations) finally give us a platform we can use to grow the hobby."

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