Written By Adam Furgang
Here is a link to a NY Post article: "The FAA isn’t really doing much about illegal drone pilots." The article is basically an understatement. Almost no one seems to care about the FAA drone rules and regulations—not the illegal operators, not the licensed operators, and not the FAA.
Now with that said, I do agree with this next article that states: "Federal Aviation Administration drone rules 'overly strict,' new report says."
I agree. The FAA drone rules are too strict. They should be changed and made more lenient. Especially for those of us who went out and passed the 107 and became licensed. It's obvious that unlicensed hobbyists are operating businesses illegally and engaging in all manner of bad behavior with their drones and no one is getting hurt. Drones are not falling out of the skies and smashing through moving vehicles at night. Drones are not getting sucked into jet engines in class B, C, D, and E airspace. Nor are they falling out of the skies and landing on people. Well sometimes they do. But mostly not.
Drones are now saving lives. See here.
So the FAA should meet somewhere, hopefully soon, and find a happy—less restrictive—medium, so the rest of us 107 folk who don't fly our drones at night, over moving traffic, people, and in restricted airspace can start getting some better shots and footage.
Drone Restrictions Part 2: Cape Cod National Seashore
Written By Adam Furgang
This will be an ongoing post regarding different locations I'd like to fly my drone/UAS, such as the Cape Cod National Seashore, Catskill State Park, Adirondack State Park, and various other scenic or interesting locations that are not necessarily within FAA-restricted airspace but are still part of other national, state, or local restrictions or bans.
Read Drone Restrictions Part 1: Cape Cod National Seashore here before reading this blog post.
In 1871, William H. Jackson transported heavy photographic equipment to the Yellowstone area of Wyoming on horseback. He did not need a permit. In fact, no one even knew or cared about the area he was taking pictures of. He photographed the Yellowstone area and presented his photos of the unique landscape to the United States Congress. Before Jackson presented his photos, no member of Congress had seen Yellowstone and they had zero clue what the area looked like. Jackson's photos revealed the almost alien landscape with amazing geysers that exploded boiling water up into the air. Jackson's photos made such an impression on Congress that they made Yellowstone the first National Park. Hooray!
Fast forward to early April, 2018. I contacted the Cape Cod National Seashore to inquire if there was a legal path I could take to get a permit to fly one of my drones on Great Island (class G airspace) on Cape Cod to take some photographs. I had already read online that flying drones in National Parks and National Seashore lands is banned. Someone from the Cape Cod National Seashore contacted me and informed me that there is a channel for proceeding and moving forward to attempt to get a permit to fly a drone within the Cape Cod National Seashore for commercial purposes. I was told to write up a proposal and submit it for review. I did just that. I carefully explained who I am, how I have a background in the arts and photography, that I have FAA SUAS certification, and that I am very familiar with Cape Cod and I have been going there every summer for more than 45 years. I also explained that I just wanted to take some pictures of the beautiful landscape.
I proposed simple up and down flights. Nothing fancy. Just enough to get some nice photos or video footage of the area. I gave the approximate latitude and longitude of where I'd be launching and landing. I proposed that I'd only fly on clear days with little to no cloud cover. I included the closest airport phone numbers. I wrote that I'd check NOTAMS. I wrote more...
Here is just a portion of what I proposed:
• I will only launch and land the UAS/drone on the Great Island beaches. I will have a small packable nylon circular landing pad to keep sand off of my drone.
• I will not launch near any wildlife, i.e., seals, nesting birds, etc., and I will carefully inspect any possible launch locations for wildlife before considering it.
• Before each launch, I will check the Cape Cod National Seashore website for alerts about any public warnings or closings in the area.
• Only one drone will be flown at a time, and only by me.
• I will not fly over any people, structures, boats or vehicles.
• I will only launch and land my drone on the beach.
• I will only fly my drone over sandy beach land, or over Cape Cod bay waters.
• I will not fly over any marshlands or wooded areas.
• I will have a first aid kit with me in case of emergencies.
I sent this in a MS Word file and and email text to the Superintendent of the Cape Cod National Seashore on April 10th, 2018. Today I received a reply—41 days later—with an apparent form letter informing me that: "Director's Policy Memorandum 14-05 and the Superintendent's Compendium March 2018 prohibit launching, landing, or operating an unmanned aircraft from or on lands and waters administered by the National Park Service within the boundaries of Cape Cod National Seashore except as authorized by the Superintendent."
The letter then went on to say, "If you would like to pursue a permit to use a UAS for scientific data collection, the requirements and process for requesting permission to use a UAS for data collection are outlined below."
What followed was a bulleted and sub-bulleted list that would only apply to someone knee deep in scientific research. A grad student perhaps. Or maybe a scientist. Maybe someone dedicating his or her life to checking for CO2 levels in the atmosphere, or someone looking for evidence of shoreline changes due to climate change. This scientist would need to submit a briefing statement to the Chief of Natural Resource Management and Science. He or she would need to state the purpose of the mission or project with designated locations, UAS platform, pilot, certifications such as FAA and COA along with dates and times.
Much of what was being asked for I had already supplied. But my "mission" to simply fly my DJI Phantom 4+ drone and take pretty pictures of the landscape, like William H. Jackson had done in 1871, fell far short of any actual scientific purpose. I would not even attempt to write up some fake nonsense proposal beyond what I had already presented. If the artsy altruistic nature of just wanting to take pictures for the sake of the images themselves and their beauty alone was not enough, then screw it.
If you go online you can easily find aerial footage and images of various locations of Cape Cod National Seashore taken by drone/SUAS. Check out Google and Flickr. Video and still images are floating around. Who are all these people? Are they all FAA certified? Did they all get permission from the Cape Cod National Seashore and meet their requirement for scientific data collection? I wonder.
I just wanted some pretty pictures. Fly up. Take Pictures. Spin the drone some. Take a few more pictures. Maybe fly a little higher and take a few more. Then land. Hike back to my car. Edit the images in Lightroom. Post images on Instagram and get a few likes. Make zero money from all my efforts. End of story.
Luckily for me where I'll be staying on Cape Cod is in Class G airspace and outside the National Seashore boundaries.
Cape Cod National Seashore Oversand Beach Driving
I just want to remind everyone reading this that you can easily obtain a permit to ride a fossil fuel-consuming automobile on the Cape Cod National Seashore. They call it: Cape Cod National Seashore Oversand Beach Driving. According to the website. "The ORV corridor at Cape Cod National Seashore is comprised of miles of unspoiled beaches managed by the National Park Service to accommodate ORV enthusiasts and other beach goers."
How exactly they can write with a straight face that the beaches are unspoiled when they allow cars to drive on them is a mystery to me. They "accommodate ORV enthusiasts and other beach goers" and grant them permission to drive on the beaches. How lucky for these ORV enthusiasts.
Remember you don't need to be conducting scientific research to drive an automobile on these beaches. You just need an easily obtainable permit.
You can apply for the permit here: ORV Permits
Here is the ORV Facebook Page.
Good luck getting a scientific data collection drone/SUAS permit.
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?
Written By Adam Furgang
I have been living in New York State (NYS) almost my entire life. I grew up in Queens during the last great age of childhood freedom, the 70s & 80s, and I'm generation X through and through. I went to grade school in Queens and I had the privilege of attending The High School of Art and Design in Manhattan. I took the subway to school for three years in a row! I came from several generations of NYS residents, and my father ran an antique business on the lower east side of Manhattan, back before it was a hipster playground. Back then, the lower east side was a hardcore heroin haven that spawned famous writers like Jim Carrol. The Beastie Boys shot the cover for Paul's Boutique on Ludlow Street, and if you have the vinyl foldout you can even see my father's old antique store sign, Antiques Market.
In the late 80s, I went away to school in Philadelphia. I came home every summer, but maybe those years away broke the spell New York City (NYC) had on me. After graduating and returning home in 92', NYC did not seem as friendly anymore. Maybe it was because I was becoming an adult? There were parking regulations, ever-rising subway fairs, city tax, state tax, sales tax, and an army of cleverly-placed speed traps in a city where nobody drove the speed limit—ever. My dad used to drive like Mad Max! The more I paid attention, the more I realized that everything about NYC seemed geared toward helping the city itself, not the people who lived there. By the time I was in my 30s, I had had enough. After countless traffic snarls at all hours of the day, rising rent costs, endless car dances with alternate-side-of-the-street parking to supposedly clean the permafilthy streets, and a ticket I received for a car inspection that was outdated by one day, I had had enough. The car inspection thing really got to me, too, because it was very likely that my car was being checked daily and the second it was not in compliance a ticket was issued. No friendly reminder was ever placed on my car to tell me that my inspection would soon expire. That's when I knew I was just a source of possible noncompliant revenue for the NYC monster. I decided to move upstate, to Albany, NY.
Albany and the surrounding area has been a decent place to live. Sure the winters suck, but homes are cheap. The schools are good. And there is nature in every direction. My neighbor once parked a full-sized RV camper out in front of his house for the entire summer and no one gave a crap. He even had electricity running to it. No ticket was issued. Nobody cared. People park the wrong way on my street all the time. No tickets are ever issued. Perhaps it would be different in downtown Albany, but the point is that life is easier here than it is in NYC. It's cheaper, too. And although the snowplow hits and ruins my lawn every winter...they do come and attempt to fix it every spring.
And now I'll get to my point—my fledgling drone business. For almost two decades my wife and I have been freelancing from home as writers. Since she does the lion's share of the work, I have always explored other areas to try and make money. Since I am an artist with a soft spot for photography, drones were a inevitability for me. I picked up a Mavic Pro in the summer of 2017 and one thing led to another. Then after doing my homework I realized I'd never be allowed to make a dime with my drone unless I got a license from the FAA. Wow. OK, so that's not New York State's fault.
So fast forward to 2018. I take a few Hudson Valley Community College (HVCC) drone courses. I study my ass off for the first time since my Chemistry Regents exam in 1988 and I pass the wacky FAA test with an 85. (I've always been a B student.) Then I continue on with my baby steps toward an actual business. This is where the party starts. I come up with the cool business name Droneopolis and am shocked that it is available as a Gmail account. I quickly snag Instagram and Twitter too. It was meant to be, I thought to myself. Droneopolis! (Some squatter has the .com, but whatever.)
Then I start investigating what is required to start a small business in New York State. I wind up using LegalZoom to get the ball rolling and start a LLC. The first hurdle comes when LegalZoom contacts me and informs me that even though the name Droneopolis is awesome and available, NYS will not allow me to have the name Droneopolis because they say it is not an actual word, or based on an actual word, and if I want to use Droneopolis I must explain to the state what it means. Baffled by this small speed bump I sit for a few minutes and think, research, and write. I come up with something and feed it back to LegalZoom who then feeds it back to NYS. I say: "The name Droneopolis is based on the English word metropolis, which means 'A central or principal place of activity.' in this case, the company's central activity will be related to drone photography." Thankfully NYS accepted my explanation.
Onward and upward, I hope.
The next wacky requirement I find is that to start an LLC in NYS you need what's called a Certificate of Publication. In a nutshell, NYS requires a new LLC to publish a legal notice in two newspapers for six weeks. One needs to be a weekly paper and the other needs to be a daily paper. God knows what NYS will do when printed papers disappear entirely. Publishing a Certificate of Publication online only, even though no one under 70 reads a printed paper, is not allowed. So I dance this dance and move forward. As of this writing, I'm still within the six week period and waiting for an affidavit of publication from the two papers so I can then move forward and send that all to NYS along with $50. This is just more pay-to-play business requirements and it reminds me of those wacky laws that are still on the books. Check out this post here to see some. Here is one I actually agree with: "While riding in an elevator, one must talk to no one, and fold his hands while looking toward the door."
So as I jump through the hoops for NYS I slowly build my website, I design a logo. I have a business card printed, and I start gathering up things I'll likely need to conduct responsible drone business activities. A get a nice first aid kit for my car, some safety cones for launch and landing area designation, a scanner radio to monitor ATC if I ever find myself close to an airport, a fluorescent orange safety vest, etc. Aside from the drones themselves and the two HVCC courses I took, there was nothing that was incredibly expensive to get the business started. LegalZoom was probably the next biggest cost. I already owned the drones and camera equipment I plan to use.
The next thing I learn about is liability insurance—and this is where my head splits open and drone pieces fall out. I start making calls to insurance companies about liability insurance. Will the drones be insured? Will the camera equipment be insured? What drones do you own? How fast do they go? How much do they weigh? Then this funny question: "Does the insured have a FAA approved commercial UAS application? And what is the application number?" What does that mean, I ask myself. I wonder if they are asking if I have an actual software application for a mobile device. Or maybe they want to know if I have a FAA waiver for some commercial use? Or perhaps the question is asking if I am planning some commercial application/use with my drones. Only FAA certified SUAS pilots can operate commercially, so the question confuses me. I know it's not asking about my remote pilot certificate because that's another question. Then I see another question regarding waivers so I know its not referring to that. So I ask the insurance agent for clarification and I get no response. They obviously don't know. This same question is on multiple applications. Maybe someone who reads this can point me to (links please) what that question is referring to.
The end result is that the cheapest I was quoted for liability insurance for my one-man drone business was $1,800 for one year. It would be another $500 on top of that if I conducted any traditional photography business. To insure the drones themselves would be another $500 on top of that. They seemed to be just flinging $tuff and seeing what sticks. The insurance companies make outrageous prices and see what sucker will bite the bait off the hook. My gut instinct is that the insurance companies are not there yet. Maybe elsewhere in the country, but not here in NYS anyway. Or maybe NYS is just too damn expensive. On one application I was asked if I'd be contacting the surrounding business for permission before flying. I honestly answered no. The weather in Albany, NY sucks for a good portion of the year. So far no one even seems to want drone images. I don't see aerial images in use on local real estate or business websites. I can't imagine going to photograph some guy's pizza shop to provide him with a few digital images of his business and then having to contact surrounding businesses just to satisfy some arbitrary question on a form. If I don't contact them and there is an accident, or if I do contact them and there is an accident, how exactly would the result be different? It did not say I'd seek permission, just that I'd inform them.
Small side note here that definitely requires a post of its own—I have been investigating flying a drone in the Catskills. This is one of two very large NYS parks. One of the biggest state parks in the country, if I remember correctly. I literally made dozens of calls to dozens of people who never answer their phones. Some call me back. Long story short here: A permit is required to fly a drone in the Catskills within the land areas that are permitted. Some areas are off limits no matter what. And after I finally got the application to apply for the permit to fly my drone, it states that I'd need liability insurance to even be considered. I'm not a big time film studio. I'm just one man. Flying in the Catskills (which I already did once in 2017 before I was FAA certified) would be for me to shoot some nice photos/videos and that's it. One guy I spoke to talked down to me and berated me on the phone and complained about the nuisance of drones to the pristine landscape. (Never mind the fact that the Catskills and many other forests were clear-cut several times over the last few hundred years.) Rather than bring that up, I mentioned snowmobiles and hunting/guns to him and he paused for a moment to think his statement about drones being a nuisance. I know people fly drones in the Catskills. I've seen the photos. The last thing I learned from the DEC was that you need a permit to take any pictures in the Catskills that will be used commercially. I asked him for the information so I could get that permit (I've been taking pictures there for 4 decades now) and he shrugged it off and said they don't really enforce that. Regulations, permits, and actual enforcement seem to be three very different beasts in NYS and with the FAA. I keep thinking I'm just a sucker for not just taking my P4P+ out and shooting what I want when I want—everyone else seems to be doing so.
The next bit of wonderful news about NYS is in regards to a supercool NYS drone insurance company called Verifly. If you are a SUAS pilot you likely already know the company and their app. They smartly provide drone insurance to pilots as needed. Their company model is brilliant since a drone is grounded most of the time sitting in a Nanuk or Pelican case on your floor. And what is the point of continual insurance if a drone isn't always being flown, and when the drone is flown the locations can vary considerably? And now, as I'm quickly learning, drone jobs are not that plentiful. Not where I live. Not yet anyway. I think it's spreading from west to east like Chuck E. Cheese's and it might be a while before the masses catch on. So for someone like me, with zero done jobs so far, Verifly would be my go-to choice for liability insurance. Paying a small fee per job is better than the $1,800 I was quoted, at least until business is booming. This is all great, except for the fact that NYS has yet to allow Verifly to issue insurance here. North Dakota is the only other state along with New York that is not on board. See the list of participating Verifly states here. There could be many reasons why this is the case. I think it's because New York State sucks. It's a mess of laws, regulations, and paperwork all with no coordination.
So when will Verifly be in NYS? The people at Verifly don't even seem to know. Here is a Phantom Pilots thread about this topic that was started in December, 2016. The thread is a sad chatter of desperate NYS people who would like access to this clever drone liability insurance service. Verifly comments here and there and can't offer any timetable or concrete info except to state that: "We are still waiting on DFS. It is very frustrating, especially as we are a NYC company! We appreciate everyone shares our frustration and hope that we will have a positive conclusion soon..." Fast forward to the Verifly app today and still no such luck. My gut tells me that NYS will get with the Verifly program one LAANC come here. Maybe.
My personal experience with NYS is not just my own personal opinion. I did some digging and found this newsday.com article stating: "NY State second-worst in business tax climate, report says." The article references this 2018 taxfoundation.org PDF. According to a usatoday.com article, (*scroll to #35) they state that: "Additionally, the Tax Foundation ranks New York’s business tax climate as the worst of any state after only Hawaii." Business Insider lists NYS as #28 in their article on, "The best and worst states to start a business."
And what about LAANC? The new technology that will let me get supposedly fast manual FAA authorization to fly in the KALB Class C airspace? According to the FAA: "Wave 5 August 16, 2018 Eastern North USA."
Written By Adam Furgang
After many weeks of sitting and staring at the FAA Drone Zone website I was just informed that they denied my waiver request to fly at night on Cape Cod in glass G airspace over the dunes at low tide in July. For those not familiar with the location, the low tide on Cape Cod goes out as far as 1/2 a mile twice a day. I figured this would be a great location to fly at night and capture a few night shots of Cape Cod.
Despite my FAA certification and my in-depth application request with latitude and longitude coordinates, a proposed well lit launch area with safety cones, lights on my SUAS, and many other provisions to mitigate risk I was denied. I proposed I'd wear a hard hat. I proposed I'd launch and land well away from the shore line (several hundred feet) and not fly over or any structures, vehicles, or people. I'd only fly up and down. I'd keep my flights short. I'd have a fire extinguisher at hand. Phone numbers ready. Cell phone charged. I'd have a first aid kit on site. A radio to scan the airports that are very far away. METARS. NOTAMs. I'd give myself 20 minutes for my eyes to adjust to the night. And on and on and on...
OK. So I move forward.
Meanwhile on Instagram, I see many people flying all over the place. They fly drones over state parks. They fly at night, over people, over moving cars and highways, etc. Are they FAA certified? Are they hobbyists? Do they have operational waivers to fly in the class C airspace near where I live and at night? Do they have permits and the required liability insurance to fly in the Catskills? Who knows? I know I've seen local night images on Instagram of Albany over streets with moving vehicles below. I'm pretty sure even CNN does not have this kind of permission yet. The FAA does not allow for flying over moving vehicles. Check out this podcast at DroneU. And also check out this FAA information about flying over moving vehicles:
No person may operate a small unmanned aircraft over a human being unless that human being is: (a) Directly participating in the operation of the small unmanned aircraft; or (b) Located under a covered structure or inside a stationary vehicle that can provide reasonable protection from a falling small unmanned aircraft.
Stationary vehicle is the key phrase here.
I do know that here in New York State I have been quoted $1,800 for a low end liability insurance policy just to fly my drones for commercial use. I'm still waiting for my Airspace Waiver to fly from 0/400AGL in the 5 mile Class C vicinity of the KALB airport near me. I'm sure this will get denied too. Why? I'm not sure. No aircraft ever flies at 400AGL or below unless it's right near the airport. Since I am a FAA certified drone pilot I now have the good sense not to fly right near the airport and its flight path. But me flying 2 miles away at 200 feet AGL to take a photo of a house or property for a real estate professional? If a plane was flying that low it'd be on the news that evening!
The KALB Class C airspace I live in is HUGE and encompasses most of Albany, NY and much of the outlying area. Without a Airspace Waiver to fly around here I am grounded. I can't conduct any SUAS business in this airspace. As a hobbyist last year I had it easier since I called the Airport and was told I'm good as long as I don't go above the tree-line. That is not an option. All I can do is wait for LAANC to arrive here in mid August. I'll just sit here and wait.
So what's the deal? Are FAA certified pilots like me who want to play by the rules just sidelined from flying and shooting in all the intersting areas while the noncompliant just flout the rules and throw caution to the wind and fly wherever the hell they want? Sure they are the ones ignoring the rules and taking the risk. But without an actual incident, are there any consequences for them? Can they sell their photos? Do they have carte blanche? Does anyone care? Is anyone at the FAA even paying attention, except of course to deny my official Nighttime Operational Waiver Request over a smelly low tide sand bar on Cape Cod?
Written by Adam Furgang
The Wingsland M5 quadcopter is the first drone I purchased more for how it looks than what it can do. Drones are awesome. We always knew that—long before any of us got FAA certification or moved toward using them in commercial endeavors. This drone looks crazy cool, like something designed for a sci-fi film. I paid $367.61 when I ordered it off Amazon.com. It took a long, full-month to arrive from someplace called Shenzhen, which is located in southeast China. It's pretty much on the opposite side of the planet from me, so I guess waiting a month and paying no tax is not a bad deal. It arrived in great shape in a nicely branded cardboard box. No English instructions were included, but you can find a PDF from Wingsland here. The specs are here and there is a "Coming Soon" spot for downloads.
The M5 is a nice, medium-sized drone that is plastic and rubber, but it feels well built and it has a beautifully designed body. It looks like a drone designed for the Tom Cruise film, Oblivion.
In the box you will find:
• 1 drone
• 1 remote control
• 6 props
• 1 battery
• 1 wall charger for the drone battery
• 1 USB cable to charge the remote control (no outlet attachment included)
• Chinese instructions
There is a nice iOS/Android app you can download for free and link to your cell. It was easy to set up on my iPhone X. Easy to fly. Props are clearly labeled and attach easily. The battery attaches with a cable, but that is also clearly labeled and attaches easily. The battery locks in place with a quick release switch.
The M5 weighs enough that it must be registered with the FAA, even if you are just flying for fun. The 720P/250FPS M5 camera is not good enough to be used for any serious business, but it can still accomplish quite a bit just for fun. You can see from the one still SOOTC POV image above that was shot on the M5 that the camera is suitable for only limited recreation, not any serious photographic shooting. The camera is fixed. No gimbal. It's aimed downward, so once you get it up a bit you will be able to see forward and down. It was $367.61 when I bought it. I'm not sure why it is $437.66 now. Maybe they messed up the price. Lucky me.
The Wingsland website states: "Max Transmission Distance 100m (No distracting environment)." As someone who knows that I need to always keep line of sight, that is still quite a distance. It's less than a mile, but I'd not be flying that far anyway.
I'm not sure why Wingsland does not have more of a presence in the US market. I know that the S6 is available at Best Buy. Beyond that, buying a Wingsland drone online seems to be the only game in town right now.
I suggest checking out the Wingsland News page here. There is another wicked cool-looking drone called the K3 that is pictured in a blog entry here. Check it out and sign up to be notified by Wingsland when it becomes available here.
Overall I think WIngsland is a good company that will need to iron out a few kinks to entrench itself more into the US market. Their websites and PFD instructions are littered with grammar errors and instructions that become lost in translation. A decent writer and editor (yes Wingsland, I can help) will go a long way in polishing the company's appearance.
I give the M5 four out of five stars because I think it could use an extra battery, printed English instructions, and eight props instead of just six. The fact that I paid $367.61 when I bought it and now it is $437.66 on Amazon is odd. I hope that for that $70 price bump the English instructions are now included in the box—as well as the extra two props. A case would be nice too, for toting around town.
I'm excited and hoping for more great SUAS/drones from Wingsland in the coming months.
Drone Restrictions Part 1: Cape Cod National Seashore
Written By Adam Furgang
This will be an ongoing post regarding different locations I'd like to fly my drone/UAS, such as the Cape Cod National Seashore, Catskill State Park, Adirondack State Park, and various other scenic or interesting locations that are not necessarily within FAA restricted airspace but still have other national, state, or local restrictions or bans.
*** UPDATE BELOW***
Now that I am a licensed FAA Part 107 Commercial Drone Pilot there are some places I'd very much like to visit with my drone/UAS so I can take some pretty pictures. It's still quite cold out (despite being early April) so I've been using my time wisely and doing online research and making phone calls to attempt to get permission and/or information about various locations I'd like to go take aerial pictures or video. The more I dig the less likely it seems that I will be able to fly a drone/UAS at some of the locations I was hopeful to visit in the coming months. Below is the first location I investigated.
• Cape Cod National Seashore
Flying a drone on Cape Cod national Seashore land, even for commercial purposes, seems like a long long shot. I'd hoped to go to Great Island on Cape Cod in July or August and hike the Island with one of my drones to take some aerial photos of this gorgeous location. Great Island, despite the name, is a land connected peninsula located in Cape Cod bay. I've hiked there many times since I was a kid in the 70s. Typically the location is almost completely free of people. To get there one has to drive to the park center and then hike many miles to get to the outer isolated locations. The tip of Great Island has an amazing location called Jeremy Point. Only seasoned hikers who packed well will find themselves there. To get there you'd need food, water, good hiking shoes, and grit.
Flying a drone/UAS on Cape Cod National Seashore seems likely impossible. According to the Cape Cod National Seashore website drone/UAV use is banned. The information page about drones/UAS states: "unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), are banned from launching, landing or operating from lands and waters administered by the National Park Service within the boundaries of Cape Cod National Seashore." The page is confusingly titled: "Restrictions of Unmanned Aircraft Systems." The words restrictions and banned are very different so I can see how someone could be a tad confused and maybe think they might be able to fly under certain circumstances. Maybe I'm splitting hairs but when one could face: "—six months in jail and a $5000 fine," I think wording is very important.
More broadly according to the National Park Service website: "Policy Memorandum 14-05, released by the National Park Service (NPS) director in June 2014, directed each superintendent to use the authority under 36 CFR 1.5 to prohibit the launching, landing, or operation of unmanned aircraft, subject to the certain conditions and exceptions set forth in the memo. This is still in force with a very few exceptions."
I'm hopeful about the very few exceptions part, but realistically I'd be shocked if I was issued a permit to fly and take aerial pictures on any location of the Cape Cod National Seashore. There are non National Seashore areas of Cape Cod so I'll still be able to take some aerial pictures.
Oddly, too, if anyone wants, you can apply for a permit to go OVERSAND BEACH DRIVING and "bring 4-wheel drive and/or self-contained vehicle (SCV)" on certain Cape Cod National Seashore beaches. The Cape Cod National Seashore page that talks about drone/UASs being banned states, "Public use of UAS is not compatible based upon the purpose of the park's establishment, which seeks the protection of scenic values and impacts from noise, as well as potential conflicts with wildlife and visitors. Unauthorized UAS usage can quickly and easily intrude on a visitor's enjoyment of the park." I'm a bit confused here, because a ground based "4-wheel drive and/or self-contained vehicle" that obviously disturbs the land, wildlife, generates noise, and fumes, can be permitted...but an electric drone that creates no fumes and generates little noise except upon landing and takeoff that is operated by a licensed FAA Part 107 Commercial Drone Pilot is banned. I'm betting these statements will be updated soon.
I think the outright blanket drone/UAS ban policies are knee-jerk reactions that have not been well thought out. I also think the lack of any easily accessible permits (like the oversand beach permits) for licensed FAA Part 107 Commercial Drone Pilots is frustrating.
I think restrictions are fine.
I think rules are fine.
I think obtuse confusing and/or contradictory drone bans, especially for people such as myself who went through all the proper channels to operate legally and responsibly is also frustrating.
Drone permits issued to licensed pilots who know the rules will help the drone industry as a whole. Blanket bans will only be broken by those who don't care and have no UAS training or understanding, and when these individuals cause accidents it will ultimately be a detriment to the industry as a whole, as well as the general populations attitude regarding drones/UAS.
Thanks for reading. —AF
I'm still digging and sending out emails and making calls. If I do get a permit to operate a drone/UAS on the Cape Cod National Seashore I'll come back here and update my findings.
Less than a week after reaching out to the Cape Cod National Seashore I received a phone call from them explaining that there is a channel to to proceed and move forward to attempt get a permit to fly a drone within the Cape Cod National Seashore for commercial purposes. There is no guarantee I will get a permit, but I have been provided with information I can use to move toward obtaining one. I'm happy. Again, I'll return here with updates once the process plays out. —AF
So You Are Now A Licensed FAA Commercial Drone Pilot! Congratulations! Now Go Get a Waiver!
Written by Adam Furgang
The last few years been a very exciting time. In the summer of 2016 I saw someone using a Phantom drone on Cape Cod. Although I was aware of drones and drone technology it was the first time I had seen one up close. Not only was the drone being operated by and adult, but I also watched as a 12 year old boy skillfully navigated it through the sky. Then I saw the images and the footage of an area I'd had been familiar with since childhood. I was blown away. Although I wanted a drone right then and there I decided it would be best to wait. I'm familiar with how quickly technology advances so I decided to do some research and see what came along before the following summer arrived. Waiting, I quickly realized, was the right thing to do. By September 2016 DJI announced the Mavic Pro, a powerful yet portable drone with a 12mp camera that also shoots 4k video and has 27 minutes of flight time on one battery.
By July of 2017 I took the plunge and picked up a Mavic Pro at Best Buy. After about 24 hours of familiarizing myself with the new aerial camera I took my first 30 second flight about 10 feet off the ground. I was nervous to say the least. I never had a $1000 camera that could be flown hundreds of feet into the air before. Being careful was an understatement. I was incredibly cautious. I registered with the FAA and put a sticker on my Mavic. I also live within the 5 mile radius of KALB, the Albany International Airport. I made some phone calls. I spoke to the town clerk, a town lawyer, someone from the parks service, and eventually someone over at the KALB Air Traffic Controll—while they were landing a plane no less! I was told that if I kept my drone at or just above the tree line I need not worry about flying it here. I could find no official answer to local rules about flying drones within the 5 mile limit of the KALB airport. The one thing I did find is that flying drones has been officially banned from one local park that is less than a mile from KALB. The park rules state: "Operation of all drone model aircraft and gas powered model aircraft at the Crossings Park is prohibited." And this on the Town of Colonie Parks and Recreation Department FAQs: "Operation of all drone model aircraft at the Crossings Park is prohibited. Gas powered model aircraft are banned in all Town parks"
I still worried.
But I still flew responsibly and as I learned more and more about the rules I started to read contradictions everywhere. According to the FAA: "Recreational operators are required to give notice for flights within five miles of an airport to both the airport operator and air traffic control tower, if the airport has a tower." The FAA also states: "The person flying the model aircraft is responsible for contacting the airport directly." These two rules statements are for people flying as hobbyists only. If you decide, as I did, to get FAA certification to fly a drone for commercial purposes the rules become even tighter. I know that sounds nuts right? But yes, it's true, once you pass the FAAs Part 107 Airman Knowledge Test there are more restrictions on you than if you were just flying drones as a hobby. First off, calling up the Airport or ATC is no longer an option for a Licensed FAA Commercial Drone Pilot. A commercial drone pilot must: "request access to controlled airspace. An airspace authorization is the mechanism by which an operator may seek Air Traffic Control (ATC) approval to operate in controlled airspace." This takes time and makes little to no sense for anyone who wants to operate commercially. It's counterintuitive to conducting business. I also found it odd that more education, two training courses I took, the $150 I paid to take the FAA test, (I passed) and all the hoops I jumped through only wound up setting me back in my ability to operate a drone where I live, not forward as I had hoped. Sure I can make some money now with my drones, but flying in my area—KALB class C airspace 43/SFC with a 5sm radius and a 10sm diameter almost entirely around Albany, NY—requires my filling out online forms to get approval to fly. I'm a bit baffled.
But wait, there's more...
• Hobbyists have no restrictions to fly at night that I can find.
• I am also unable to find anywhere (If I am wrong about this please point me to any official FAA spot that informs me differently) where it states that a hobbyists can not, or should not, fly while impaired by alcohol. *** After some digging I did find this video put out by the FAA, but I still can not locate any official section where they state a hobbyists can not, or should not, fly while impaired by alcohol. Again, if I'm wrong just point me in the right direction.
*** I also found that the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) has a set of rules that states: "I will not operate any model aircraft while I am under the influence of alcohol or any drug that could adversely affect my ability to safely control the model." Now a drone is not a model of some old WWII aircraft. It's new piece of technology. And I'm not sure that the AMAs rules are official like the ones over at the FAA. Obviously flying a drone while drinking alcohol is nuts. But for gods sake, the FAA should have this clearly stated on their website for hobbyists too.
I know now after studying hard and taking and passing the FAA test that a Licensed FAA Commercial Drone Pilot cannot drink any alcohol within 8 hours of flying a drone. I'm not complaining about not being able to drink-and-drone. I think it's a great rule. I'm not much of a drinker anyway. It's the lax and nebulous guidelines for hobbyists that irks me. From what I read I think the hobbyists have it easy because 100 years ago no one gave a hoot about people flying a RC plane in a park somewhere (possibly drunk or at night??) and whatever lax, or hard to locate, restrictions that were put upon them continue to this day. I did find this CNN article about New jersey making it illegal to fly a drone drunk. I guess these drone hobby issues are being tackled state by state. If it was already illegal federally why would NJ have to make it illegal locally? This quickly becomes a labyrinthine hornets nest the closer one scrutinizes it. I do find it a bit odd that a hobbyist (anyone—kid, adult, or kidult—who buys a DJI drone at Best Buy, Target or Amazon to fly for fun) can fly their drone at night and not worry. Licensed FAA Commercial Drone Pilots need to show the FAA through an OPERATIONAL WAIVER application that they can operate their drone safely at night.
Remember, I'm all for the dont-drink-and-drone rules. Below is the FAA legalese about alcohol that applies to a Licensed FAA Commercial Drone Pilot:
According to § 91.17 Alcohol or drugs.
(a) No person may act or attempt to act as a crew-member of a civil aircraft -
(1) Within 8 hours after the consumption of any alcoholic beverage;
(2) While under the influence of alcohol;
(3) While using any drug that affects the person's faculties in any way contrary to safety; or
(4) While having an alcohol concentration of 0.04 or greater in a blood or breath specimen. Alcohol concentration means grams of alcohol per deciliter of blood or grams of alcohol per 210 liters of breath.
Here is some more FAA listings for what a Licensed FAA Commercial Drone Pilot needs an operational waiver to do with a drone:
• Flying at night (§ 107.29)
• Flying directly over a person or people (§ 107.39)
• Flying from a moving vehicle or aircraft, not in a sparsely populated area (§ 107.25)
• Flying multiple aircraft with only one pilot (§ 107.35)
• Flying beyond the pilot's visual line-of-sight (§ 107.31)
• Flying above 400 feet (§ 107.51B)
• Flying near airports / in controlled airspace (§ 107.41)
I quickly fell in love with the technology. As a life long creative and photographer suddenly having the ability to take aerial photographs gave me a thrill like when I first started taking pictures. The government's backwards way of doing things has me a bit confused. I keep think of automobiles. Imagine if you wanted to use an automobile as a hobbyist and had less restrictions than someone who was driving for official commercial purposes. This is the way the current FAA drone regulations are set up right now. It seems to me the people who pass the FAA test should get more leeway than the average person flying at the park or on the beach with their kid.
All the rules are important. The one rule that i think should have been made more lax after passing the FAA test and being allowed to operate commercially is the controlled airspace rule. As a Licensed FAA Commercial Drone Pilot I now know what to do and not do better than the average person. I know about METARs, wind shear, density altitude, temperature inversion, latitude and longitude, navigation with a rose compass on a sectional chart, and a mess load of FAA abbreviations and acronyms like, AGL, MSL, SM, ATC, VLOS, NOTAM, VFR, and a zillion others. I know how to check for NOTAM's now. I know how to monitor the common airport frequency on a scanner. I know about cloud cover rules. And I even managed to retain the crazy information in my head now that sea-level pressure is 29.92 Hg!
Things should get a bit easier soon. LAANC is coming soon and when it arrives it should hopefully make it a little bit easier for Licensed FAA Commercial Drone Pilots to fly in controlled airspace for commercial drone operations. What is LAANC?
According to the FAA,"LAANC is the Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability. It enables drone pilots access to controlled airspace near airports through near real-time processing of airspace authorizations below approved altitudes in controlled airspace. Drone pilots can use applications developed by approved UAS Service Suppliers to access the LAANC capability."
That sounds good. There's a nice app for the iPhone called AIRMAP. Once the system is up and running, in theory, one should be able to use the app to show the FAA and local ATC all the who, what, when, where, why, and hows about your current drone operations.
When will LAANC be coming to my area? LOL. Don't laugh. According to the FAA LAANC will get to me by: Eastern North USA – August 16, 2018. The summer will be almost over. I'll need to stop wearing white a few weeks after it arrives, and the 6 months of cold and darkness we have here in Albany, NY will be steadily approaching. :)
The FAA Section 336 Dashboard does state that hobbyists should: Never fly under the influence of drugs or alcohol.