This Fireworks Drone Is Awesome”“and Illegal

An amazing video of eye-level fireworks violates several regulations.

National Journal
Alex Brown
July 7, 2014, 1:49 p.m.

The coolest video of this Fourth of Ju­ly week­end also hap­pens to be il­leg­al, thanks to fed­er­al reg­u­la­tions that lim­it the use of small air­craft.

Jos Stiglingh’s drone-shot video of a fire­works show cap­tured mil­lions of views as awed watch­ers took in the up-close-and-per­son­al look of the col­or­ful ex­plo­sions. Sparks and smoke whizzed by the cam­era, at­tached to a small, four-ro­tor drone.

But this post-va­ca­tion Monday’s back-to-real­ity mo­ment in­cludes a re­mind­er that drone pi­lots face strict lim­its on how they op­er­ate their air­craft.

While it’s un­clear how high Stiglingh’s drone flew, the FAA lim­its the air­craft to be­low 400 feet.

Joe Rozzi, vice pres­id­ent of Ohio-based Rozzi Fire­works, said he had seen the video and es­tim­ated a show of that nature has shells ex­plod­ing about 500 feet in the air (at times, the drone ap­peared to be above the level of those ex­plo­sions). “I’m sur­prised the drone didn’t get taken out of the sky,” he said. “I thought it was neat.”

However, Con­gress has carved out some ex­emp­tions to the FAA’s abil­ity to reg­u­late “mod­el air­craft” weigh­ing less than 55 pounds. This only ap­plies to re­cre­ation­al flights, and it’s un­clear if Stiglingh’s flight meets this cri­ter­ia. But the 400-foot ceil­ing isn’t the only reg­u­la­tion pi­lots have to worry about.

When Con­gress gave great­er lee­way to mod­el air­planes, it also dir­ec­ted they had to be flown in the line of sight of their op­er­at­or. It’s im­plaus­ible that Stiglingh’s na­ked eye could keep watch on his drone, hun­dreds of feet in the air, at night, in the midst of near-con­stant ex­plo­sions.

Mod­el air­craft pi­lots must also alert air traffic con­trol­lers when they fly with­in five miles of air­ports. It ap­pears the fire­works show was well with­in that range of Palm Beach In­ter­na­tion­al Air­port. Stiglingh hasn’t spe­cified if he ob­tained clear­ance.

In ad­di­tion, the agency says drones should be flown away from pop­u­lated areas. A fire­works show, along with the in­ev­it­able crowds it draws, is un­likely to meet that de­scrip­tion.

The FAA’s rules also pro­hib­it “care­less or reck­less” fly­ing of air­craft; it’s prob­ably not a stretch to say zoom­ing through ex­plod­ing shells could fall un­der that cat­egory. If a rock­et were to strike the drone and veer off course, it could pose haz­ards to people nearby.

Along with the FAA rules, the Coast Guard had also es­tab­lished guidelines for the West Palm Beach, Fla., show, ban­ning any “vehicle, ves­sel, or ob­ject” in des­ig­nated safety zones near the fire­works.

Stiglingh would also face trouble if he tried to use his drone foot­age for profit. Com­mer­cial drones are cur­rently banned by the FAA.

The video — and the FAA’s re­sponse — il­lus­trate a grow­ing prob­lem for the agency. While drone tech­no­logy be­comes more and more ac­cess­ible, most am­a­teur pi­lots don’t have a full aware­ness of the agency’s policies. As such, the agency has been hes­it­ant to pun­ish users who vi­ol­ate its rules (in the com­mer­cial sphere, it’s only tried to pro­sec­ute one vi­ol­at­or so far, while many more have got­ten away with warn­ings — and free pub­li­city).

As a res­ult, the FAA is stuck play­ing reg­u­lat­ory Whac-A-Mole, wait­ing for vi­ol­at­ors to post videos of their ex­ploits and then swoop­ing in to tell them not to do it again. It would be im­possible to mon­it­or or pre­dict every drone activ­ity, and the FAA lacks the re­sources to po­lice all likely drone hot­spots.

For now, the FAA’s best course of ac­tion seems to be to bet­ter edu­cate the pub­lic on its rules — and hope grow­ing aware­ness keeps fli­ers out of trouble spots. The agency did not re­spond to re­quests for com­ment.

MOST READ
  1. 1 I’m Not Broken
What We're Following See More »
BACKING OUT ON BERNIE
Trump Won’t Debate Sanders After All
3 days ago
THE LATEST

Trump, in a statement: “Based on the fact that the Democratic nominating process is totally rigged and Crooked Hillary Clinton and Deborah Wasserman Schultz will not allow Bernie Sanders to win, and now that I am the presumptive Republican nominee, it seems inappropriate that I would debate the second place finisher. ... I will wait to debate the first place finisher in the Democratic Party, probably Crooked Hillary Clinton, or whoever it may be.”

AKNOWLEDGING THE INEVITABLE
UAW: Time to Unite Behind Hillary
4 days ago
THE DETAILS

"It's about time for unity," said UAW President Dennis Williams. "We're endorsing Hillary Clinton. She's gotten 3 million more votes than Bernie, a million more votes than Donald Trump. She's our nominee." He called Sanders "a great friend of the UAW" while saying Trump "does not support the economic security of UAW families." Some 28 percent of UAW members indicated their support for Trump in an internal survey.

Source:
AP KEEPING COUNT
Trump Clinches Enough Delegates for the Nomination
4 days ago
THE LATEST

"Donald Trump on Thursday reached the number of delegates needed to clinch the Republican nomination for president, completing an unlikely rise that has upended the political landscape and sets the stage for a bitter fall campaign. Trump was put over the top in the Associated Press delegate count by a small number of the party's unbound delegates who told the AP they would support him at the convention."

Source:
TRUMP FLOATED IDEA ON JIMMY KIMMEL’S SHOW
Trump/Sanders Debate Before California Primary?
4 days ago
THE LATEST
CAMPAIGNS INJECTED NEW AD MONEY
California: It’s Not Over Yet
4 days ago
THE LATEST

"Clinton and Bernie Sanders "are now devoting additional money to television advertising. A day after Sanders announced a new ad buy of less than $2 million in the state, Clinton announced her own television campaign. Ads featuring actor Morgan Freeman as well as labor leader and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta will air beginning on Fridayin Fresno, Sacramento, and Los Angeles media markets. Some ads will also target Latino voters and Asian American voters. The total value of the buy is about six figures according to the Clinton campaign." Meanwhile, a new poll shows Sanders within the margin of error, trailing Clinton 44%-46%.

Source:
×