Outdoor Recreation and Drones

Parrot Drone

Flying drones is outdoor recreation.  Yet this activity often intersects with other outdoor recreation pursuits.  So much so that the National Park Service has banned drones in the National Parks since June of 2014.  That doesn’t stop people from flying them in the Parks and one fellow was recently tasered by a Park Ranger while flying a tiny quadracopter drone at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

The U.S. Forest Service says that it does not have the authority to establish any additional regulations regarding where a drone or “unmanned aircraft system” (UAS) can or can’t be flown, beyond regulations of the Federal Aviation Administration (FSS).  They say that recreational drones must abide by Temporary Flight Restrictions put in place by the FAA over disasters such as wildfires as well as the FAA’s advisory AIM Section 4, 7-4-6 with suggested limitations for flight over Wilderness areas – a section that really has nothing to do with drones (Search for “Forest” and also “7−5−5. Unmanned Aircraft Systems”) .  Unmanned Aircraft must abide with specifications identified through the FAA’s Certificate of Authorization process which includes no flight over populated areas. The Forest Service is also studying what their policy should be related to the agency’s use of UAS.  They pretty much say that you can fly drones in the National Forest as long as you avoid populated areas, Wilderness areas and wildfires.

The FAA has been developing rules for drones for quite some time and they are approaching finalization.  At the moment, the FAA says: “Individuals flying for hobby or recreation are strongly encouraged to follow safety guidelines, which include:

  • Fly below 400 feet and remain clear of surrounding obstacles
  • Keep the aircraft within visual line of sight at all times
  • 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
  • Don’t fly near people or stadiums
  • Don’t fly an aircraft that weighs more than 55 lbs
  • Don’t be careless or reckless with your unmanned aircraft – you could be fined for endangering people or other aircraft”

Beyond that,  the skies are open.

Frankly,  I’m torn.  I like the idea of using cameras mounted on drones because they can tell many stories much more clearly than terrestrial observations.  At the same time,  I, like others, escape to the outdoors to get away from the noise of the city and the highways.  The sad fact is that most drones are loud and anathema to the quiet expected in remote locations.  There are some inherent limits in that most drones are electrically powered and have very limited flight time.  Most folks aren’t going carry many batteries very far into the wilderness.

So,what do you think?  Are the FAA’s safety guidelines sufficient?  Where are you in the balance of drones, privacy and quiet?  Make your comments below.

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