I'm beginning to to wonder if I might've just opened up Pandora's Box when it comes to FAA regulations on "Unmanned Aerial Systems"... Even the FAA's own handout that I posted in an earlier comment, doesn't actually ban the use of "Unmanned Aerial Systems" within 5 miles of airports but rather suggests one "contact the airport or control tower when flying within 5 miles of an airport." Nor is it exactly easy to find any official policies online since as of the time of writing the relevant web page on faa.gov is empty- http://www.faa.gov/about/initiatives/uas/reg/. I was able to dig out a cached copy of a PDF which can be found here if anyones interested...
The terminology for "Unmanned Aerial Systems" instead of "Vehicles" could be highly relevant to our work BTW... According to this article entitled Drone report: Electronic news gathering, law and litigation
The FAA classifies “unmanned aerial systems (UAS)” as the unmanned aircraft (UA) and all of its associated support equipment, including control station, data >links, telemetry, communications and navigation equipment, etc., necessary to operate the aircraft. (Emphasis Added)*
Of course, vaguely worded definitions are part of bureaucratic syntax and hardly signals anything that might be of concern for grassroots mappers.
But I have to admit, whereas only yesterday I found myself defending government restrictions on safety and even security grounds, my concern has been growing about the true "spirit" of the law governing "UAS".
For example, the *Southeast Farm Press" published an article only yesterday with a headline reading- FAA DRONE RULING SAID TO BE SETBACK FOR FARMERS, RESEARCH.
The article included an overview of how UAS technology can help farmers that should sound familiar to PLOTS contribitors-
One of the primary uses will be for aerial photography. What a farmer can do is place an infrared camera on an unmanned aircraft system. The infrared technology >will be able to check the crops for diseases that the farmer then can go and tackle at a quicker pace than having to walk the field,”
The article then goes on to outline how such deployments may be complicated by the recent FAA ruling that "clarifies the difference between a hobby use and non-hobby use of unmanned aircraft systems".
The new ruling was explained by a rural development specialist at the American Farm Bureau-
“If a farmer just wants to use an unmanned aircraft system to view crops or a field that their family is going to consume, they can utilize that technology. But if it is >for a commercial farming operation – the farmer’s going to take that product and sell it to a consumer – then they can no longer utilize that technology according to >the FAA.
Whenever there's a legal grey area such the confusion surrounding UAS, one is often compelled to interpret the "spirit of the law". My concerns are that the "spirit" of this law seems to be more about protecting vested commercial interests then it is about establishing safety procedures.
If this is indeed the case then its no wonder the regulations concerning airports and military zones are so vague!
I've done enough work in procurement reform and Open Data advocacy to recognize certain red flags amidst the usual bureaucratic minutae and the FAA is setting off its own share of them... So if my concerns are warranted, then I'd say grassroots mappers should be extra vigilant as the FAA decides what constitutes a "hobby" and what requires a "commercial" (i.e Corporate) permit. Such rules could very well rope in kites and weather balloons in their definition of "UAS"...