Written By Adam Furgang
I realize my posts may be negative, defeatist, and trending toward whining like a cat stuck out in the rain, but I know what my strengths are. Writing some positive puff piece about how amazing all the FAA drone regulations are, and how easy this all is now that I'm certified, and how everyone flying a drone is awesome would help no one.
Am I regretting this whole commercial drone endeavor? Pretty much. Mostly, yes I am. Do I regret every aspect of it? No. I don't regret taking the two HVCC courses early this year. I learned a lot and I feel much more informed than I was prior to taking them. I'm also a better pilot now, too. I also don't regret studying for and taking the FAA Part 107 test and applying for and getting my FAA SUAS license. It was not easy but it felt good studying and then passing. It was a fun day when the license came in the mail. I felt like I accomplished something, at least for a short time. I probably should have just stopped there. All my next steps into the world of small business and my attempts at FAA compliance only drew me into a Terry Gilliam, Brazil-like world chock full of government bewilderment, contradictions, and a morass of ill-informed hobbyists along with a cluster of ultra-informed professionals. The ill-informed and ultra-informed are not as disparate from each another as one might think. I'm still not sure exactly what group I'm in. As is typical for me in life, I feel like an outsider, observing everyone and wondering what makes them tick.
• The ill-informed hobbyists (and that fascinating cluster of those who are FAA certified and just choosing to disregard the rules) fly anywhere they want. They fly over moving vehicles. They fly over people. They fly above the clouds. They fly at night. They fly in controlled airspace. They fly where there are local bans in place. They do whatever the hell they want. No one seems to care. They chalk up likes, thumbs ups, and followers on instagram like a Kardashian with an exposed butt cheek. So I sit and look at Instagram. I see all sorts of posts in the United States that obviously are not legal. Drones flying over people and moving traffic are what stand out to me the most. You are not allowed to fly over people or moving traffic. It was written up as a breakthrough when CNN was granted permission to fly over people. I'll gladly wager that some dude on Instagram with a few hundred followers does not have permission to fly his drone over people. Flying at night, and in controlled airspace no-less, is another thing I see all the time. I see pictures taken in Seattle over people and moving vehicles over a beach. I see pictures shot above the clouds! I see pictures taken over central Park in NYC over buildings and people and moving vehicles. I've seen a lot online. It blows my mind what is going on out there with drones. And now that I know the regulations my mind is blown even more.
There is also this wacky movement out there among drone professionals and enthusiasts alike to not engage in any finger wagging. No rules and regulations are to be stated! Just post cool pictures and have fun! No drone police! No one wants to hear any dissenting voices about rules and regulations. I see people politely ask questions about how someone got permission and was able to fly at night, in controlled airspace, over moving traffic, and over people, and they get called out for being assholes. Buzzkills! Drone police! For the purposes of this blog, I myself commented on one Instagram poster's photo of a crowd from above, very obviously obtained by flying over it. There was even video on the feed shot straight down over people milling around below. I had to comment, just to see what the result would be. Sure enough I was called a jerk. I was told I had no idea how to network, and then my comment removed. The video shot directly over people was also suspiciously removed too. Nice. Then I wondered to myself if maybe I just needed more grit, and if I should just throw caution to the wind as everyone else is clearly doing? Nah. I don't want to get in trouble and I'm clearly better at writing these blog posts than I am at writing proposals for FAA operational waivers anyway.
• Now the ultra-informed professionals are a great group of people. They know everything. They'll gleefully type up exactly whatever information the FAA wants parroted at them for a waiver. No biggie. They smile. They happily jump through whatever hoops are presented them, no matter how absurd, and go along their merry way. "Oh, FAA waivers...no problem. Operational waivers...no problem. Visual observers...no problem." Meanwhile there is me. Just some schmuck with no VO who just wants to play by the rules but who apparently lacks the patience and knowledge to get a simple waiver to fly over a sand dune on Cape Cod at night in July. Never mind the ill-informed hobbyists flying over traffic, people, etc. And the ultra-informed professionals with money, time, and resources for a dedicated VO often get green-lit while I'm told no. Someone suggested I write back to the FAA and ask for clarification. Rather than toss my computer into the Hudson River, I did just that. I wrote back and politely asked for clarification. No response.
Joseph Campbell said: "Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors where there were only walls."
Oddly, I'm finding the walls quite interesting. I'm enjoying writing about the walls.
Maybe the walls are my open doors?