FAA predicts increase in drone purchases, pushes for public safety regulations

Natalie Meek

Before breaking open the new drone received during the holiday break, remember there are important steps to take to avoid potentially dangerous mistakes.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) describes a drone, or unmanned aircraft, as something capable of sustained flight, flown within visual line of sight of the person operating the aircraft and used for hobby or recreational purposes. 

According to Business Insider, consumer drone sales are expected to cross $1 billion in sales before the end of the holiday season. These unmanned aircrafts can easily be purchased at Walmart, Target, Best Buy, Toys “R” Us, Amazon, Kohls and most retail stores.

Drone costs vary as well. Drones made with plastic cost as low as $15, whereas higher end drones can be close to $1,000.

The problem with having easily accessible drones is people aren’t correctly informed on the safe ways to use them, further blurring the line between a harmless toy and an impactful aircraft.

Jason Lorenzon is Kent State’s Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS) lead faculty, an attorney, an sUAS remote pilot in command, an FAA certificated commercial pilot and flight instructor. He explained that drones have recently changed from serving predominantly military purposes to being used for personal recreation.

“The issue I have is that you’re not going to buy an aircraft unless it’s through an authorized dealer,” Lorenzon said. “But you can buy a drone anywhere. The FAA has expressed concerns that they are consumer goods. Companies want to make money and this puts them in the wrong hands.”

Real Estate Agent, Steve Neisel, explained that he and other Cutler Real Estate realtors frequently utilize drones for commercial use to take aerial images of large properties.

“It’s really grown and become more popular over the last several years,” Neisel said. “I usually use them when I have a 10 or more acre estate. It’s a new type of technology that has very much changed the ways we can provide images of listed properties.”

Whether used for commercial or recreational purposes, drones pose a threat of being sucked into airplane engines, rotors or propellers which can cause fatal accidents.  

If your unmanned aircraft weighs more than .55 pounds, then it must be registered with the FAA and labelled with your registration number. In the cities of Kent, Stow and Tallmadge, 167 drones are registered with the Federal Aviation Administration. To learn how many FAA registered drones there are in certain cities, see here.

When flying any unmanned aircraft within five miles of an airport, the operator of the aircraft must provide the airport operator and the airport air traffic control tower with notice of the activity. The FAA even created a mobile app called B4UFLY to help recreational drone-users know whether there are any restrictions or requirements where they intend to fly.

Community member Dave Kuchenski, from Tallmadge, bought his recreational drone online, and it came with a manual that instructed him to check for regulations in his area before flying.

“I called the air traffic control tower when I flew the drone close to the Akron Canton Airport,” Kuchenski said. “It’s such a simple thing to do. It only takes a couple of seconds to say, ‘Hey, we have a drone out here,’ and they told me it would be fine and to keep it under the recommended height. If it helps keep people safe, then why wouldn’t you?”

The FAA issued a notice through the Federal Register on Oct. 4, 2017, stating the increase in the number of registered unmanned aircrafts, as well as the number of safety reports being filed.

The FAA’s rules for flying an unmanned aircraft include:

  • Flying at or below 400 feet.
  • Being aware of airspace requirements and restrictions.
  • Keep your UAS within sight.
  • Never flying near other aircraft, especially near airports.
  • Never flying over groups of people.
  • Never flying over stadiums or sports events.
  • Never flying near emergency response efforts such as fires.

“Today, there are an average of 250 safety reports a month,” the FAA reported in the Federal Register. “Approximately 1,500 over a six-month period are associated with a potential risk of an incident between manned aircraft and a UAS.”

The FAA has developed regulations to allow the operation of small unmanned aircraft systems in the National Airspace System for commercial purposes. This is referred to as a Part 107 Certification. With this, pilots or non-pilots can learn about the requirements, characteristics, regulations, inspections, recommended maintenance and other details of unmanned aircrafts.  

“Get an instructor and work with someone to take a course and get your Part 107 Certification,” Lorenzon said. “It’s not that hard to do, and it’s worth it in the long run. Before you fly, educate yourself.

Natalie Meek is the south regional campuses and aeronautics reporter. Contact her at [email protected].