5 Drone Safety Tips for Your Family
Is your tween or teen asking for a drone for a holiday gift this year? You’re not alone. Otherwise known as unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), drones have become all the rage for kids and adults alike, due to their increasing affordability, advanced technology, and wide assortment of uses, models, and designs—not to mention the cool aerial cinematography they allow. In fact, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) projects that drone sales will increase from 2.5 million this year to 7 million by 2020.
However, with new drone enthusiasts taking to the skies every day, safety has also been a growing concern, especially in light of some of the unsafe incidents you may have heard about or seen in the news. (Just search “drone fails” on YouTube and you’ll see what I mean.)
From collisions with buildings and other drones, to breaching restricted air spaces, one mishap could wreck your fancy new "toy" and threaten public safety, as well. Read on so your entire family can learn the rules and stay safe!
1. Register your new drone with the FAA
As of February 2016, if you own a drone weighing between 0.55 and 55 pounds, you’re required to have it registered with the FAA’s UAS Registration Service. The registration process is online, hassle-free, and costs only $5. Above all else, registration is mandated by federal law. Failing to register your UAS (if it meets said weight requirements) could mean civil and criminal penalties of up to $27,500 and $250,000, respectively. Once your UAS has been registered, make sure your FAA registration certificate is in your possession anytime you operate the drone.
2. Insure your drone
A standard homeowners insurance policy typically includes “model or hobby aircraft not designed to carry cargo or people.” A bigger concern, however, is liability for an accident involving your drone. For this reason, consider joining the Academy of Model Aeronautics. Membership costs only $58 a year and includes $2.5 million in liability protection if your UAS destroys property or injures someone. You could also look into individual liability coverage from a private insurer, but it’ll likely be more expensive.
3. Make sure your family understands (and follows) all UAS safety rules
Regulators are continually tightening UAS rules, so be especially cautious and stay informed. Lawmakers are pretty adamant about where drones can be flown, and any mishaps associated with them could very well lead to more stringent regulations. Before your family's drone lifts off, check that everyone is educated and closely follows all UAS rules.
Note these important guidelines (just to name a few):
- Never fly near other aircrafts or airports
- Don’t fly over crowds of people, stadiums, national parks, or over any space where a descending drone risks public safety
- Never fly above 400 feet and avoid surrounding obstacles
- Don’t fly near emergency response efforts
- Never fly when inebriated
- Understand airspace restrictions and requirements
Although the FAA has supreme authority over how drones are flown, it’s still important to check local laws in your state. More than 30 states and Washington, D.C., have their own drone laws in place, but it’s fair to assume that that number will increase. You may also want to notify your neighbors of your flights of fancy; some drone operators have had their UAS shot down by defensive residents.
4. Fly in an open area first and establish boundaries
As tempting as it may be to take your drone to more interesting spaces, it’s important for you and your youngster to first test your aviation skills in a very open environment, such as a football field or a quiet park. That way you can avoid trees, people, and power lines. Flying in the morning is also a good idea, since the winds are likely be lighter with fewer people around. If your (older) child will be flying the drone without you, establish boundaries as to where he or she can fly.
5. Get a feel for the mechanics
Developing muscle memory is key to drone safety, as there are many repeated actions you’ll come to rely on when flying. Hovering and descending are the basics. But other maneuvers, like yaw, pitch and roll, are also important to learn. Try hovering for a few seconds at intervals of 5 feet, and practice maneuvers that angle the cameras to capture strong footage. Slowly orchestrated movements not only allow for crisper images, they help you understand the mechanics of your drone.
Once you get a feel for it, practice flying your UAS without relying on GPS technology. (Drones have been known to go rogue due to faulty GPS systems, at which point you can lose control of the aircraft. When GPS mode is on, you’re not actually flying the drone, per se; rather, you’re simply guiding its direction, and when you release the controls it’ll stop and hover in place.) To be acclimated in case you lose GPS, practice flying in “attitude” mode, which gives you more pilot control over the aircraft. In addition, try other modes, like “simple” or “free,” so that you’re better able to pilot the drone manually in case something happens.
As drones become more commonplace, their relative ease-of-use and lower price could lead to people taking them less seriously. But it's important to stay focused on drone maintenance, safety risks, and piloting skills in order to avoid serious consequences. By heeding these important safety tips, you and your family can enjoy an awesome aerial experience while steering (or yawing!) clear of harm’s way.