Two weeks before Christmas, half the population is in a panic to find the
perfect gift. Drones, those unmanned flying objects long used by the military
but increasingly used by photographers and civilian flight enthusiasts,
might come to mind. They are interesting toys for some and tools of the
trade for others, depending on how they are used and who is using them.
A roofing contractor can use a drone mounted camera to take photos of a
damaged roof without having to get a ladder out. I use mine to take aerial
photos of accident sites for my legal cases. Others buy them just for
entertainment, because they like to fly remote controlled aircraft. The
word "aircraft" might tip off where I'm going with this.
Are drones truly aircraft in the sense that their operators have to be
licensed by the FAA? In 2012, Congress exempted drone hobbyists from regulation.
Commercial operators like photographers working for hire, the roofing
contractor I mentioned a moment ago, and I are not exempted when we use
our drones for work. It didn't seem to register in the minds of the
people we elected to Congress that a drone can be flown by a person using
it as a toy into the side of a building, over a crowded football stadium,
or into somebody's skull just as fast as a commercial user can.
Last month, the National Transportation Safety Board declared that drones
are indeed aircraft. That being the case, it is likely that the FAA will
be provoked into regulating recreational drone flights in addition to
the already regulated flights for commercial purposes. It's even possible
that the FAA will require drone operators to fly their equipment under
the same rules that exist for airplane pilots.
So before buying a drone for someone in your family, you might want to
consider how burdensome those regulations could be. For example, airplane
pilots have to be trained, tested, and subsequently retrained every two
years, and their aircraft have to be registered and inspected annually.
I'm lucky to be an airplane pilot anyway, so regulations like this
wouldn't pose a problem, but for most people, they would be very burdensome,
enough to make almost anyone adopt the words of Ebenezer Scrooge, "Bah,