Drones Advancing Faster Than the Law | News
It's a bird. It's a plane. No, it's a drone.
Those words will likely become more common around Central Georgia, as more unmanned aerial vehicles or UAVs take to the skies.
We're not just talking about those used by the military, but the kind that could be flown from your neighbor's back yard.
The technology seems to be advancing faster than the rules governing it.
Thousands of feet above Dodge County on a recent afternoon, a drone soars over the rural landscape, an onboard camera tracking its journey.
Researchers at Middle Georgia State College's Aviation Campus in Eastman regularly do this sort of testing.
It's part of a Unmanned Aerial Vehicle degree program. Chad Dennis is developing it. He's an instructor at the college and the chairman of a statewide group, leading Georgia's charge into drone technology.
Dennis said, "We see an emerging market here."
The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Surveillance International estimates 3,500 Georgians will work in the drone industry by 2025, injecting the economy with a $300 million impact.
Dennis said, "We want to put Georgia people in those job positions."
Dennis wants his students trained by 2015. That's when Congress wants the FAA to have regulations in place governing the use of commercial drones.
Now, they're prohibited, because those rules don't exist.
Colleges and government agencies can fly them under strict guidelines.
Dennis said, "We basically have to put in an application to the FAA and request permission to fly specific aircraft, in a specific location, for a specific purpose."
Permits can take two months to a year to obtain.
That's in sharp contrast to recreational drones, where their pilots can just take off.
Wayne Carley from Warner Robins guides his via remote control over downtown Macon on an August morning.
The high definition video and still camera on his drone showed an aerial picture of the Hay House.
It hovered a couple hundred feet above. Carley could fly it down below, and check out folks near the ground.
He steered the camera with his remote control to point it himself and our camera crew, standing on the ground.
Carley said, "There's a picture of us."
He could steer the drone much higher, although he doesn't think that would be safe. He's crashed the $20,000 drone once before. It costs him $6,000 to repair.
Carley said, "Since it's new technology, there aren't any laws or guidelines to really govern it."
The FAA steers recreational UAV users to this: Model Aircraft Operating Standards written in 1981. It "encourages voluntary compliance", to prevent run-ins with full scale aircraft.
It suggests flying away from populated areas, flying no higher than 400 feet, and staying away from airports.
Carley said, "I think how they are being used is probably the real concern."
He invested in his drone with an interesting concept in mind. He's offering UAV flights to farmers who want images of their crops, to realtors who want aerial views of property, or to almost anyone who wants photos from above.
Carley will do that for a donation to the non-profit science and technology magazine he publishes.
He says he wouldn't make any money on the exchange. So, he's not breaking the ban on commercial drones.
13WMAZ called the FAA to double-check.
Les Dorr from the Office of Communications in Washington wrote, "This is an unusual situation. I'll have to check with the folks at the UAS Integration Office. I'll get back to you as soon as I have something."
We waited a week, with no response. The lack of a clear answer illustrated that there's many rules on UAV's still unwritten.
Carley intends to use the technology safely and respectfully, when it comes to people's privacy.
He said, "I don't think that's an issue except if was in the hands of someone's whose intentions were less than honorable."
Experts, like Dennis, will tell you there's no rule book on the privacy aspect either. He said, "There's not a regulatory body out there looking for those things."
Dennis says one day there likely will be.
Until then, the skies for hobbyists drones can seem quite limitless.