FAA Moves Ahead on Efforts to Bring Some Order to Drone Flights

NEWS ANALYSIS: The Federal Aviation Administration makes some long-expected moves toward publishing rules for drones, including hiring managers to oversee their implementation.

FAA Drone Rules 2

Everything came to a stop at the U.S. Open tennis tournament on Sept. 3 as a drone appeared out of the evening sky and passed over the players while they volleyed.

Then, unexpectedly, the drone careened toward the grandstands and crashed into the seating area. That area of the stadium was unoccupied at the time, and no one was injured.

However, 26th seeded player Flavia Pennetta of Italy said she was shaken by the appearance of the drone and thought she was about to become the victim of a terrorist attack. Pennetta, despite the drone intrusion, went on to win the match against Monica Niculescu of Romania.

On the morning of Sept. 4, a New York City school teacher was arrested for the drone flight and charged with reckless endangerment, among other crimes. The 26-year-old teacher works at a technology high school in Brooklyn.

This sort of incident points up the rising need for some means to get a handle on drone use in the United States. The teacher that was charged for his drone flight is presumably able to read and write. Thus, he was at least theoretically able to understand the rules. But for whatever reason, he either didn't know the rules or he didn't bother to check. He just launched the drone to have some fun.

Unfortunately for the FAA, which sets the rules for things that fly, there isn't a way to instill good sense into people. In one sense, the agency is doomed to be playing catch-up with people who are too stupid or too lazy to find out what the safety rules are and then follow them.

But there is one thing that the FAA can do, which is to come up with a coherent set of rules that are easy to understand and then make it easy for people to find out what those rules are and follow them.

Now, the FAA has an app for that. The agency has just released the beta version of a new app called B4UFLY that's allows people to check the area where they intend to fly what the government calls a UAS device (unmanned aircraft system).

The new app, which currently only runs on iOS, will look at the location and make sure it's not in prohibited airspace, not near an airport and won't be flying in a situation where it will endanger people.

The new app will be tested by about 1,000 people, and eventually will be available for devices beyond iPhones and iPads. It does require location services to be turned on and it's designed for the full range of UAS operators, including drone pilots and people operating model airplanes.

The first look at the FAA's approach to new UAS rules comes from new operating rules for model airplanes, which were released on Sept 2. One look at these rules, and you'll notice the strong connection between it and the FAA's NPRM (notice of proposed rulemaking) released earlier in 2015.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...