A New Era for Birdmen

drone1As a child, I loved remote-control toys with complex mechanics. If the toy happened to fly, so much the better. Unlike most kids, I wasn’t too concerned with commandeering them for a role in my latest GI Joe reenactment. I took them apart and attempted to put them back together again, often finding myself in a Humpty-Dumpty situation…“all the king’s horses and all the king’s men….”

Although my RC car days are long gone, the rapidly growing drone market has peaked my interest, as it has with many other people. Drones – long used in warfare for their stealth, maneuverability and often undetectable nature – have become increasingly popular with the masses (looking to be the most popular Christmas gift of 2015). Current drone prices range from under $100 to upwards of $2,000. The majority of drones on the market offer the advantage of aerial pictures and 360° video capability. While these consumer drones are hardly military grade, it seems they pose a challenge for air traffic controllers and a safety hazard for aircraft. Air traffic controllers state that the minimum safe distance for any object to be near an aircraft is 1,000 feet plus.

In July of this year, the captain of a passenger jet flying out of JFK with roughly 150 passengers on board had a scare when a drone flew within 100 feet of the aircraft. Events like this have begun occurring with alarming regularity as drones gain in popularity. These aren’t the styrofoam, light plastic RC jets of the late 90’s. Drone makers have recently been hit by the FAA drone rules which mandate that drones weigh less than 55 pounds, fly slower than 100 mph, fly no higher flight than 500 feet and are not flown at night or near airports. All of these measures aim to ensure the safety of airspace, air travelers and those of us on the ground.

While a license is required for the commercial use of a drone, regulations on piloting them are almost non-existent. However, the U.S. federal government aims to change that no later than this Christmas. NBC News cited a report that the government is going to require anyone who purchases a drone to register it with the Department of Transportation. According to Market Watch, an FAA official believes that over a million drones could be sold for the upcoming holiday season. The registry list could be affected by those of us who would rather build than buy, since the purchase of drone parts online would inevitably lead to an increase in unregistered flying objects.

Drone registry aims to keep us novice pilots accountable for what we do with our aircraft. The FAA is hell-bent on getting the message across that these are not toys, and shouldn’t be treated as such. These not-toys can afflict rather serious damage to a plane or other vehicle if they are not operated properly; which raises the question – do I need insurance?

As of now, drone insurance is not required, although if you’re spending $2,000 on one, it wouldn’t be a bad idea. It seems as though the primary goal of drone registry is to know who owns it in case one lands on the White House lawn again or – worse – gets caught in an airplane engine. Drone insurance will end up coming down to the class of drone you own. It’s ludicrous to insure a $50 drone at a monthly premium that ends up costing more than the drone is worth. However, a 50 pound drone flying at 400 feet and 80 mph (all legal under FAA rules) is an entirely different story. Perhaps we all need to start walking around with protective helmets on our heads!