Eyes In The Skies: Regulating Drones, 1215 RIBJ, RIBJ, 64 RI Bar J., No. 3, Pg. 9

Author:Guy R. Bissonnette, Esq., Professor of Legal Studies Johnson & Wales University, Providence.

Eyes In The Skies: Regulating Drones

Vol. 64 No. 3 Pg. 9

Rhode Island Bar Journal

December, 2015

\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0 November, 2015

\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0 Guy R. Bissonnette, Esq., Professor of Legal Studies Johnson & Wales University, Providence.

\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0Despite the fact that various laws/regulations refer to them as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV)[1] Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS)[2] or Unpiloted Aerial Vehicles (UAV),[3] the public knows them as Drones. In spite of the recent publicity surrounding these pilotless airborne vehicles - i.e., a crash landing on the White House Lawn[4] or interfering with commercial aircraft at heights nearing 7500 feet[5] - there are actually only a few hobbyist vehicles now authorized to fly legally in the United States. Currently, there are no laws regulating and/or authorizing the commercial use of drones.

\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0Is the deployment of civilian drones a good idea? Or, just because you can - doesn't mean you should.

\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0All technologies have the potential for good and/or evil. And, of course, which it is, is often in the eye of the beholder. When drones are discussed one should never lose sight of the fact that these vehicles were created as a military technology, used against the enemies of our nation, on foreign soil, and that same technology (minus the weapon systems) is proposed for law enforcement and commercial uses, in and around the civilian populations of the United States. When the argument for the commercial use of drones is put forward, the advocates mention such activities as: aerial photography; mapping; crop monitoring; inspecting cell towers, bridges and other tall structures; monitoring pipelines; journalists covering disasters; and realtors showing property in the context of the neighborhood.[6] Few would argue with these uses. But, it does not take much imagination to foresee the potential misuse of this technology by criminals, stalkers, voyeurs, private investigators, and terrorists. One question that is never asked in the current discussion: Is the use and deployment of civilian drones a good idea?

\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0The trickle down use of technologies from the military and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is rarely questioned. If there is a viable civilian use for these technologies, why wouldn't it be introduced into the civilian market place? No one has stopped to ask if it is inevitable that drone technology will be in general use. Or, rather, is it a technology (like civilian nuclear power) which should only be available under tightly controlled and restricted circumstances?

\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0We will never know the answer to this question. Not only does no one seem willing to even entertain this issue, there appears to be an assumed inevitability about the use, regulation and availability of drones which belies this fundamental underlying inquiry. So, drones it shall be.

\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0Existing and Proposed Federal Law/Regulations

\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0The United States Congress has passed no federal law regulating drones. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has currently authorized, via federal regulations, the operation of only one class of drones - those flown by hobbyists.[7] Obviously, these machines are of limited range, size and capabilities, and the rules under which they are permitted to operate reflect those limitations. Hobbyist drones can weigh no more than 55 pounds; they must be flown within line of sight of the operator; are not to be flown at an altitude higher than 400 feet; and restricted from being operated within 5 miles of an airport. Hobbyist drones are also prohibited from flying over people and stadiums.[8]

\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0Yet under only this limited authorization, we have witnessed numerous news reports over the past few months outlining the misuse and inappropriate operation of these small, simple and unsophisticated vehicles. The United States is not alone. On April 22, 2015 a drone carrying radioactive sand landed on the roof of the Japanese prime minister's office in Tokyo. In 2014 more than a dozen French nuclear plants were buzzed by drones. In March of 2015, drones were seen hovering around the Eiffel Tower and other Parisian landmarks. And, also in March of 2015, there was an attempt to use a drone to deliver tools and drugs into a British prison.[9]

\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0The FAA recently proposed new rules to permit and regulate the operation of commercial drones.[10] It has also begun authorizing the commercial use of drones on a case by case basis, issuing over 1300 waivers nationally.[11] Several of the operational restrictions on this new class of drones are: they must be operated in line of sight of the operator; commercial drones cannot be operated at nighttime; the commercial operator must pass a knowledge based test and receive an operator certificate; the operator must be 17 years of age or older; the vehicles cannot weigh more than 55 pounds; all commercial drones must be flown under 500 feet of altitude and at no more than 100 miles per hour; operators must stay out of airport flight paths and restricted airspace; and drones cannot be flown over people.[12] The comment period on these proposed regulations has now passed, but it may still take as long as a year or two for the FAA to issue its final proposed rules permitting commercial drones.

\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0Rhode Island’s Regulation of...

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