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News & Insight

The Proposed Laws & Regulations For Drones Are Finally Here – Obama & The FAA Weigh In & Speak Out

By Kishore Sawh on February 15th 2015

Well it’s finally arrived; the proposal which seems set to be passed with the authority akin to an executive order on drone usage. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has released today a new, rather concise and specific set of long-awaited rules of operation for commercial drones. What it does is set a framework for remote-controlled aircraft to share the skies with other types of aircraft.

It was only a few days ago that there was a leak, of sorts, regarding this very proposal, which explains in some lengthy, yet surprisingly simple wordage what the proposed plan would be, and the whys. A final decision is due by September this year and it seems the urgency is such that its deliverance on deadline is very important. Even the President signed an official presidential memorandum today governing how federal agencies will use all variations of drones.


This memo, which also bears the same legal effect of an executive order, is meant to ensure that drone usage, even by federal agencies doesn’t violate the First Amendment or discriminate against people for any reason up to and including race, and religion. Such a thing as this requires a certain amount of transparency so agencies will have to publish their policies and how to access them, again within a year. In the same transparent vein, the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration is set to begin drafting a framework to ensure privacy and transparency.

Some of the specifics will be discussed a bit further along, but it’s important to understand, as photographers, that the use of drones is much further reaching than for aerial photo/videography. Already surveillance of the southern US border is heavily done by drones, but the list of major uses will grow. They are currently being used by agriculture, law enforcement, military, search and rescue, coastal security, and hopefully even more in critical infrastructure inspection and first responder medical support. Again, that list is only set to expand, and money plays no small part in it, as the cost for a drone to do a bridge inspection or surveillance of a large area, for example, is far less than traditional methods.

According to The Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, commercial drones will create 70,000 jobs with a fiscal impact of $13.6 billion in the first three years, bumping up significantly by 2015. Interesting to note that there has been little specific disclosure on how this would be generated, or how many jobs will be ‘lost’ due to the new technology.


Currently, the rules set forth so far address drones 55lbs and under. The rules seem very favorable to companies that do commercial work, in which photography would fall under. Currently, the FAA bans all commercial drone flights, spare those by a small number of drone companies which have been given a waiver. (This is interesting given photographic drone usage already for ‘commercial’ purposes – even though the regulations don’t apply to ‘hobbyists’). The demand is so high, however, that it’s probably a large reason why these regulations are being pushed through.

Some of the rules would be that drone operators would be no younger than 17, they must pass an aeronautics test, and be vetted by the TSA. There will be no minimum required number of flight hours however, unlike a private pilot’s license. Furthermore, that drones would be required to operate below an altitude of 500ft, and have forward momentum of nothing greater than 100mph.


The operators would also be regulated to operate the drones only within eyesight, and no use of onboard cameras to fly the drone further, nothing would be able to be dropped from the aircraft, and there would be laws against reckless operation. If any of these seem harsh, all of the proposal is to be made public to hear responses and suggestions. Already, there have been outcries from both camps who want stricter, and more loose regulations. There’s also the Unmanned Aerial Systems America Fund which is asking the FAA for a separate list of regulations for drones up to 3lbs that fly lower than 400ft.

See the proposals here and here.


It appears that some of the regulations are being contested by certain groups, especially those within the aviation community. As someone part of that community, it’s not hard to understand at least some of those reasons.

While I don’t like the tide of progress to be held back, nor do I think it can be, drone operation poses a significant threat to commercial aviation. Should all regulations be followed, it would appear that no mishaps would happen, but do rules ever get entirely followed? No. Recently, there was a Southwest pilot flying into LAX who reported a drone that flew above him at 4000ft. If that drone was to enter an intake, there could very well be a catastrophic failure of the engine, and possibly the entire aircraft. Airline pilots have been calling for a very high level of training for drone operators, and I for one, am with them.

This wouldn’t spell well for aerial photographers, but I think that’s a small price to pay. That’s my personal feeling, and I don’t expect all to understand or agree. It seems like the monetary value of the drone operation is so high, that the government feels being a little more lax is worth it. 

What are your thoughts on the matter?

See news report of drone and SouthWest aircraft below:


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A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Neil Killion

    @ Robert
    That UPS truck is under the jurisdiction of just as many alphabet soup organizations. I am not an FAA expert, but I do study Unmanned vehicles. I drove a truck for several years so I can speak from that angle. A commercial vehicle is policed by several agencies, most of which would be the same as the aircraft aside from the FAA. A commercial driver has federal regulations fro the D.O.T, NTSHA, FBI, EPA, State police, and local and county. If the driver is a hazmat driver then there are a few more organizations as well. If I got into a wreck the local pd or state police depending on the location of accident would respond. NTSB would only get involved if there were several casualties.

    In the event of a wreck, my insurance would handle it, if a UAV wrecked it would be the same way. The operators insurance or the victim’s home insurance would handle it.

    Local jurisdictions could restrict UAV traffic if there is a concern. Trucks are usually not allowed on certain roads due to weight or height issues.

    It is much more likely that the UPS truck is going to cause an accident, or you driving your personal vehicle than the knocked down UAV by a baseball.

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  2. Kevin Sutton

    A baseball knocking a quad/octo out of the sky is pretty much like drawing a winning powerball ticket. Accidents will happen with anything. As an AMA member I feel that if I want fly unfettered within a given space I will go to an AMA sanctioned flying field. If I want to fly out side of my house I will do so there either. The neighbors here like my quad quite a bit. They ask questions I answer them and they are intrigued. If i want to fly over more congested areas I would much like to have the opportunity to obtain a license/cert/Insurance from the FAA with also the power to legitimately charge for any work done doing so.

    Will there be problems at the beginning? Absolutely. WIll it calm down? Eventually. One of the biggest hurdles here is the media…we all hear about the big bad drone (phantomI, II) but never anything good. It’s all perception. While I can see many possibilities for tri/quad/hex/octo copters for agriculture, search and rescue, photography, EMS and other fields we all focus on the negative. We as RC hobbyists/users of RC have to be ambassadors to the rest of the community and help educate others that fear the technology.

    As I said before there will always be miscreants that use something that it was never intended for. As well as boneheaded folks that don’t educate themselves on how to fly their new shiny flying object. BTW I still hate the use of the word “drone” as I am not flying a MQ-9 Reaper. DJI is still doing a disservice to everyone by instilling the confidence that the return to home future is 100% always accurate and will never fail. Tech can and will fail but you have to be ready for when it does.

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  3. Neil Killion

    I find some of the fear a little disheartening and frankly along the lines of Chicken Little. As far as Amazon or Domino’s goes, I doubt seriously that they would start using unmanned aerial vehicles before they are sure they are not going to be a liability. They want to make money, not spend money in liability lawsuits.

    Should we really not allow unmanned aerial vehicles because even one injury, property damage is too great? In 2012 almost 4,000 people were killed in accidents involving large trucks (trucks over 10,000lbs) according to the NHTSA. Should we not allow large trucks on the road? After all they are a real present danger not a hypothetical danger.

    Obviously there is a problem with the safety of unmanned aerial vehicles when misused and there is some need of regulation. To completely prevent their use, or to act like they are some greater threat than a R/C vehicle is ridiculous.

    Requiring a license to operate them I think is reasonable. Proponents of unmanned aerial vehicles should get behind it because all it will take is for one aircraft to be brought down by the misuse of an UAV and that will spell the end to the hobbyist side of the usage argument.

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    • robert garfinkle

      Well, I can see dominos / amazon doing it in safe areas (safer anyway) vs. very congested areas. Besides, how exactly would they do it.

      I mean think about it. An incoming air vehicle, into a neighborhood, god knows what could happen. taken out by some kids…

      Let’s propose the innocent take down of a drone – non-malicious…

      Scenario: A father and his daughter are in the front yard. playing ball. using a bat, whacks the ball, nice hit, great angle, goes up, whacks a drone. ball gets spun into a window, the drone comes crashing down. Now, best case scenario, no one gets hurt… drone down… it was delivering a Nikon D4s.

      Because of the nature of the accident, who will show up at the scene now that federal regulations are in play here, who?

      NTSB, DHS, TSA, FAA, The Police? That’s just for starters…

      Will the father and daughter be fully investigated for malicious acts. Will all those agencies simply go on sight for that incident? You can call me crazy, sure, I can take it. Yet, if a vehicle like that has an accident, with all those regulators in play, you can probably bet each department will be sending out a crew. Too too much, right?

      But let’s look at what could happen today. A UPS truck, delivering the Nikon D4, get’s a window knocked out by that same ball, and for sake of argument, no one gets hurt – let’s keep it simple here…

      Who is coming to the scene? Maybe a UPS inspector, the police definitely – to write the report / issue citation (maybe) it’s an accident, right? That’s it…

      In the case of the broken UPS truck window, insurance will take care of it, maybe on the outside someone shows up to court (maybe), yet it’s a pretty cut n dry easy thing to deal with…

      1. Under the fallen drone incident, what insurance company is going to want to deal with that mess…

      2. Are we going to resort to telling people they can’t play ball in their yards – or generically restricting what citizens can / can’t do as a result of drone traffic… It aint gonna happen…

      I can definitely see communities and cities, react – just like they have street restrictions not allowing certain trucks passage, create / institute “No Drone Zones” equaling No Fly Zones in residential areas out of safety concerns… you betcha…

      How bout adverse weather effects on drones, loss of signal effects???

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  4. robert garfinkle


    I think there should be a clear separation “acknowledgement” of the differences between RC and Drones. There is to some degree; what I do not want to see happen, is, some guy, like yourself, having a hobbyist moment, in fun, and then being raided by authorities, in a park, treated like a criminal, when you are just doing as you’ve always done… having fun, not hurting anyone…

    If anyone read the list of rules / proposals – it involves TSA; and would hate to see TSA vans, accompanied by DHS in an assault, in a mistaken moment by them, as to your (other’s) activities that on even a best day, would not normally raise suspicion… Because these entities are very very very trigger happy…

    and it’s not so much whether or not they have the right / authority to act; but I can tell you this, and maybe some of you guys and gals have seen / heard about incidents, completely blown way out of proportion, and I would not like to be the guy who’s flying an RC plane or a copter, and be rushed by authorities who have notoriously destroyed peoples lives over misinformation – then you make the news, it’s over, with absolutely no recourse / recovery from effects of the incident, which should have never been…

    I don’t want to see commercial use for drones, as stated above / patterned after Kevin’s sentiments, besides, uh, I suppose in theory Domino’s via drone is, well, technologically neato, but, imagine that your pizza is flown above homes, catching all that wind in the winter, and your drone delivers frozen dominos. And what if your six pack of root beer happens to lose a can cause it was not exactly on the rung of plastic, it becomes a weapon of mass indigestion…. falling and pegging someone…

    aside from the RC folk who enjoy it, drones are very dangerous in my eyes…

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  5. Kevin Sutton

    Also, I do not think Amazon’s or a pizza places UAV delivery is such a fantastic thing. Far too much traffic in the skies would be generated by this practice and I don’t think even I would be comfortable with completely autonomous versions of these things flying around delivery pizzas and bar soap.

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  6. Kevin Sutton

    As an RC pilot of many years I am happy they are finally moving something on this. I have flown RC planes at my local flying field. I also have built several Quadcopters and am moving to a Hexacopter soon. The word ‘drone’ gets everyone in a tizzy, they think military type drone. These are far away from the LARGE military types.

    For profit flights (which I would partake) should be handled with certification that you are qualified to fly one in manual operation and not rely so heavily on the automated gps/atti modes. There should also be an insurance requirement just like an auto or real plane. These proposed regulations are also geared for LOS only which can be limiting but I understand the reasoning.

    Can these things be wrought under control by miscreants yes they can but so can everything else (ex. firearms). You have to punish the people who do wrong and not punish the folks who don’t.

    I have no problem with people buying quads etc as long as they put the effort in to learn to fly them in all the modes and do a proper preflight check on your aircraft…just like the real ones. I have an issue with someone with picking one up and just assuming that they can fly it off and they solely rely on the brain inside the quad this will ultimately lead to either disappointment or possible disaster. If your going to do this start with palm sized version like the Estes ProtoX or something to get the feel.

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  7. Dean Reid

    I currently do not own a drone; however, over the past year or two I have given serious thought into purchasing a drone in order to add another feature to my photography business. Due to all the restriction by the FAA I never made the purchase.

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  8. robert garfinkle

    btw – related but not. and before I say this, hope no one likes this post, just reply with how you feel. There is nothing to like about it – IMO

    As much as I respect this industry, and see drones used in artistic fashion, similar to the Haunting Auschwitz video article posted a little while back; I cannot respect the use of drones for cinematography or consider it artistic / dramatic at all – as ISIS used drones just yesterday in the beheadings of those Christians. Terrible.

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  9. robert garfinkle

    I work on projects dealing with the FAA; I will not disclose any further information out of respect and by contract terms. The following comment is personal, in no way shape or form have any ties to regulations, who I work for, this forum; it’s personal at this point. I will refrain from any politicized / slanted opinion.

    secondly, I have not read the rules and regulations, signatures, proposals, executive orders, and the like… I will comment based on gut common sense…

    I have great concerns about drone usage. I really do see a serious safety concern, not just the relationship between the use of drones around aircraft / airports, but in any area.

    I feel there are too many variables in play that can affect a drone in flight, and because drone technology is in it’s infancy, there are accidents waiting to happen; even threats, direct to human lives. If anyone cannot see that – I would think common sense would easily bring clarity as to what could happen…

    Imagine, even keeping within regulations, no matter what they are, a drone getting hijacked, now freely able to be driven / flown, especially with camera (or where the hijacker has the ability to see what’s happening with the drone), and does something that puts people in harms way.

    Or a drone malfunctioning, causing the death of someone. All it would take is one incident, in my books, and I’d end the whole thing – that’s it. if it were up to me…

    I can see the use of it, for inert / reasonable / peaceful purposes – yet see it turn very dark very quickly.

    As you can see, I think drones on many levels threaten safety, seriously.

    Do I think they should not be used, at this moment I stand on that side of the fence – that’s my first gut feeling. This is completely departed from freedom of speech, all that…

    More on this later… when I get more information.

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    • fred palagonia

      i have a neighbor in town who flies large scale gas operated radio controlled helicopters. from what i recollect , he’s insured and very limited in where he can fly
      his helicopters .. this comes from the FAA . the insurance is for liability. and from what i here it is not cheep.

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    • robert garfinkle

      I am not so concerned about P.O.R.C (Plain Old Radio Control) vehicles.

      Frankly I did not know about F.A.A. regulations regarding aircraft; but not surprised.

      Commercial use is what concerns me – from companies like Amazon, Dominos Pizza, etc who wish to use these vehicles for commerce / delivery… There are tests / prototypes being done… Personally, I really do not know how they will do it. Again, so many variables. To commercialize that air traffic I think is very dangerous. I would say it’s almost too expensive to do and limited use.

      Ask yourself, how a pizza delivery would occur, seriously. or, how’d a package delivery would come off…

      Any air-vehicle could turn into a legit national security threat, especially to aircraft. How would they be tracked, by IFF systems (Identify Friend or FOE), would they show up on radars along side aircraft, or are they too small to detect.

      I think the idea is great, don’t get me wrong – sooo many uses, especially for photographers / cinematographers. But, so many risks offsets, in my head, the benefits…

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    • robert garfinkle

      Follow up –

      I read the pdf from the whitehouse, which seemed to address concerns posted above…

      From what I understand, Amazon and the like, are going to take this to congress, and I hope they lose.

      Again, ask yourself, do you really think a drone, carrying a package, can maintain it’s safety, especially in adverse weather, avoid power wires, not get messed with by people / kids in the neighborhood (malicious actions), affected by uav-hackers, uav-hijackers, uav-disturbed signal interference, etc etc etc…

      You can’t tell me that companies like google, amazon, dominos really think they have a solid enough technology that can withstand all the possible adverse conditions described above, to keep it safe. IMO, they are arrogant…

      heck, if apple can miss the statue of liberty in a gps based system, imagine what can happen with the guidance system on any of these…

      or am I going to grand slam one out of the park for you here – as a great, great example… One of the largest remaining free standing Calumet Photos left in the United States, located in Oakbrook, IL, is mis-mapped by ALL gps based systems, by 1.4 miles. Every GPS system lands you in an office park not even close to Calumet.

      Do you trust GPS guidance? How else will you guide these things in a commercial setting… There should not be one OOPS!!! right?

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  10. fred palagonia

    federal regulations is never a good thing.. its just a matter of time before they see the DJI’s as and existential threat .

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    • James Bearce

      When it comes to the safety of our aviation system–and as a private pilot myself–regulation in this instance is absolutely a good thing; as, long as the regulations are sane.

      Unfortunately, as with all things aviation, there are compromises between the many different users of our aviation system, and no one is going to get everything they want. I have a drone, and I think it’s great. But, I understand how to operate it sanely, and without endangering anyone.

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  11. Brandon Dewey

    As someone who use to fly in a helicopter for my living and being a photographer I see both side of the story. I do believe that people should be able to fly drones but theses that do need to understand all the rules around all the different airspaces and and to make sure they do not fly their drone into one. Before you fly your drone make sure you know were all of the local airspaces are, and stay below 400′ and you should have no problem. Helicopters can fly well below 400′ and usually do along rivers and non populated areas so just keep you eyes out for another aircraft in the area because you will more then likely be able to see the other aircraft easier then the pilot can see your done.

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    • Ben Perrin

      Great comment Brandon. It’s all about common sense really. Make sure you aren’t a hazard and make sure you aren’t spoiling peoples enjoyment of nature and you should be free to use these things imho.

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