Drones are taking the world by storm and leading progress in so many fields. These wonderful machines that rise into the air while being controlled from the ground have unlocked so many new possibilities that it is hard to envision anything but blue skies for them going forward—talk less of drone danger.
And yet, there are concerns in many quarters.
What if a drone falls out of the sky? What if a pilot loses control of his unmanned aerial device and runs it into a building or another manned aircraft?
There have been more than a few incidents (like the time a drone crash landed into the White House lawn in January 2015) to warrant some worry. And some lawmakers feel there should be more regulations put in place to ensure the safety of the pedestrian public as more drones take to the skies.
In this guide, we look at a few facts to help shed some light on this issue and answer some questions about the danger of drones.
Is There a Danger to the User?
First things first, are drones a danger to you when piloting them?
The rules for getting a license in order to fly a drone are somewhat different depending on where you are and if you intend on flying your drone recreationally or commercially.
As you can imagine, in the case of unmanned aerial vehicles, there is no immediate, pressing danger to the pilot should the drone malfunction while in the air.
A falling drone can easily be side-stepped if the pilot is vigilant enough and energetic.
The FAA doesn’t even require you to get a remote pilot license to fly your drone if you intend flying it recreationally and solely as a hobby.
You are required to follow whatever local laws are in place governing the use of drones, however, and also:
- Keep the drone within visual line of sight at all times
- Keep at least five miles away from airports and air traffic control towers
As you can see, these laws in place are there to ensure the safety of others around rather than the pilots themselves.
Play safe, all the same; take the time to practice in a wide open space, free from other people when learning to fly your new drone. If you intend practicing in a closed space, fly the drone within a cage to protect yourself from getting hit. And never (EVER!) put your fingers into spinning rotors. It will be hard to continue flying drones with a few fingers missing.
In fact, take out the batteries when handling your drone to avoid the rotors accidentally coming on while it is still in your hands.
What Are the Aerial Dangers?
Given how routinely birds run into aircrafts, it is not surprising that many people are worried that the same thing could happen with drones, putting lives at risk.
The truth is anything flying close to an aircraft constitutes a risk.
In January 2009, US Airways Flight 1549 had to crash land into the Hudson River after it hit a flock of geese shortly after take off from La Guardia airport in New York. It was the only option available to Capt. Chesley Sullenberger after the birds destroyed both aircraft engines — and yes, this is the same true storyline that the film Sully is based on.
When you consider that some professional quality camera drones outweigh geese by more than a few kilograms, you can see why flying close to an airport is frowned upon today.
In addition to collisions, drones pose other dangers to aircrafts in the form of radio frequency interference.
And these are the reasons why airports shut down and flights are get cancelled when there is a risk of drones flying too close to aircrafts, as was the case in December 2018 when thousands of flights were cancelled after two illegal drones flew into Gatwick airport.
Even though there have been zero incidents so far between drones and manned arcrafts, authorities consider the risks too great to take any chance.
Generally, there are few rules to take note of, when flying your drone, in order not to fly afoul of the authorities:
- Fly Below 400 Feet: Keep it below 121 meters above ground level when out there to avoid sharing the same airspace as helicopters and airplanes. Keep in mind that rules vary with location. In places like Canada, the maximum height allowed is even lower (90 meters), so find out the rules for where you are and adhere to them strictly. You can check with the local aviation authority to find out where the lines are.
- Maintain Visual Line of Sight At All Times: Resist the temptation to see how much of a pro you are by flying blind. Ensure that you can see your drone in plain sight at all times. That means not relying solely on your drone’s FPV camera or vision enhancers like telescopes and binoculars when flying. You also want to avoid flying your drone in foggy or cloudy conditions that would impede your line of sight.
- Adhere to Set Community Based Guidelines: Does your city or locale have rules in place to govern the flying of drones? Abide by them. Lives could be saved by something as simple. Check with the local authorities if you are not sure, and in the case where there aren’t, you can stick with the aviation authority of the country like the FAA in the US or the CAA in the UK.
- Don’t Fly in the Dark: Sometimes it can be hard to put that controller down and call it a day when you are king of the skies. But to avoid risks to you and others—especially aircrafts, do not fly your drone after dark. Officially, dark means 30 minutes before official sunrise and 30 minutes after official sunset.
Is there a Danger to the Public?
There are few ways in which drone danger could reach the public.
First of these is the risk that drones could fall from the sky and land on somebody, or drones flying low enough could run into crowds and hurt people.
Secondly, there is also the issue of privacy which lies threatened by camera-wielding drones. Drones are able to scale fences and defenses to take potentially compromising photos of individuals and property from the air.
Some lawmakers in the US are lobbying for geo-fencing software to be installed in recreational drones to keep them off restricted air spaces like airports and military barracks for this very reason.
However, flying into people is a drone danger which is probably best resolved by a little common sense.
Choose an open, unpopulated space to fly your drone in freedom without risking other people’s lives. Don’t choose the local busy park where you are likely to run into individual persons or groups of people.
It goes without saying that you should stay away from stadiums, public events, and community gatherings like churches and weddings.
Can I Be Arrested for Flying a Drone?
Yes, you can. The danger of drones is real and present, in spite of their popularity. Regulations are being put in place to ensure that the worst potential offences do not happen.
Learn the rules for recreational or commercial drone flying which have been put in place by the relevant authorities, and get the appropriate license for your drone as soon as you can.
How to Manage Any Danger
Stay informed of the rules and you should avoid any of the dangers of drones. We’ve already touched on what the general rules are throughout this article, but here is a recap you can easily memorize:
- Fly below 400 feet or 121 meters (90 meters if you are in Canada)
- Fly your drone within your line of sight
- Stay well clear of aircrafts and airports
- Don’t fly over a person or groups of people
- Don’t fly over stadiums or other gatherings
- Don’t fly near emergencies like fires or disasters
- Don’t fly under the influence of alcohol or other substances
- Always be aware of the local rules in place concerning airspace