Lawmakers Unclear on Drone Regulations
GAMBA 1: It is a windy Tuesday morning and John is taking out his drone from a big black suitcase. He doesn’t want to say his full name because he´s keeping an eye for cops. His drone weighs 4 pounds, it’s 18 inches tall and it kind of looks like a spider… but with only four legs.
This is a 3D robotics quadcopter, which means it has got four rotors and its GPS stabilized and then I´ve got a GoPro camera on it.
GAMBA2: The drone´s four legs grip steadily on a small spot of lawn just north of Grant´s tomb in Riverside Park. Controller in hand, he waits for the camera to start transmitting a live feed.
GAMBA 4: And when all’s clear, John counts down to liftoff: 3, 2,1…
(Sound) Of we go (drone sound fades)
GAMBA 5: The 27 year old manipulates the drone´s route. It picks up speed, and passes a couple of New York City landmarks.
We see the George Washington Bridge and we can see a tour bus going by. Even just 60 feet off the ground like the drone is flying right now, you get a very different view of how things look. (drone sound, park sound)
GAMBA 6: What John is doing is technically legal, but there is a grey area. A month ago, he had a bad experience with cops in a park one hour north of New York City, while he was flying his drone.
They said nope, not allowed, absolutely not. You gotta put it away. And I tried to say ok I won’t fly here and they said ok yeah. But they told me they were also supposed to take all my information down and forwarded to basically the federal government.
GAMBA 7: But the government already knows about John´s drone. He is one of the three hundred eighty thousand people the Federal Aviation Administration says have registered since December 21st.
Marke “Hoot” Gibson is spokesperson for the FAA. He says the agency started asking people to register when the airspace kept getting crowded with drones.
We were concerned that this would become a hazard, was becoming a hazard.
GAMBA 8: One of the key points of registration is that it allows the FAA to give owners of drones a few tips about safety.
We provide information about airspace and how to properly operate their aircraft. If they’re going to do it within the surroundings of an airport we ask that they contact the airport.
GAMBA 9: But aviation attorney Loretta Alkalay is skeptical that the registration is going to help because many of the drones the FAA reports could be birds or balloons.
A lot of the most popular drones are very small and difficult to see even from the ground.
GAMBA 10: She says the registration number helps identify the drone only when something’s gone wrong.
The number would be so small that you wouldn’t be able to see it, unless it crashed and you recovered enough of the drone that it had a number that you could use for identification.
GAMBA 11: The challenges for regulators are not going away. Recently a group of companies involved in drone business such as Google X, Intel and GoPro have began meeting to discuss the line between safety regulation and personal freedom.
Back at Grant’s tomb, our drone operator John is getting ready to bring his drone home.
Keeping it about 20 ft of the ground right now, about 27% battery so I´m gonna bring it down. And landing.
GAMBA 12: The Aviation Rulemaking Committee hopes to come up with some new recommendations for the FAA by April 1 st.
Laura Gamba, Columbia Radio News.