Excerpts from the article titled "The drone age?" By Thomas Moriarty - Mail Tribune
Posted Jul. 19, 2015 at 12:01 AM
In the Rogue Valley, as elsewhere, miniature computer-controlled aircraft quickly have filled a niche in the commercial photography market, providing aerial images at costs and from angles that would be impractical using conventional aircraft.
Prices for popular quadcopter models range from around $680 for the DJI Phantom to more than $3,000 for larger, more complicated models such as the Walker Voyager 3. Cameras can range from cheaper internal models to the popular GoPro Hero action camera series, typically mounted on a stabilized gimbal for shake-free video.
Michael Carlini, who has been doing business since May under the name Southern Oregon Drone, says he relies on a Phantom for most of his work, preferring its internal camera system.
Like many drone photographers, Carlini says he got his start filming real estate for brokers. "My boss was very particular about the angles I was filming and the quality of the footage," he says. Since then, he’s filmed everything from regattas to paddleboarding tutorials on the Columbia Gorge. “I’ve filmed stock footage for people all over the country,” he says.
Carlini is a licensed pilot, a current requirement for commercial use of UAVs, or unmanned aerial vehicles.
To be legitimate, you need to get a Section 333 exemption from the FAA. The application process for an exemption can cost several thousand dollars and take months, and to legally use it, you still need to hold a pilot's license.
Under current FAA guidelines, recreational drone operators who fly aircraft weighing less than 55 pounds, below 400 feet and within line of sight for non-commercial purposes aren’t required to obtain a pilot’s license or exemption from the agency.
The current proposal for long-term regulations, announced by the FAA in February, would require commercial drone operators to complete a knowledge test in lieu of obtaining a pilot’s license, a scenario that doesn’t sit well with everyone in the field.
“If you’re manipulating the controls of the aircraft, you’re responsible for it,” Carlini says. “If just one of those rotors goes out, the whole thing will spiral out of control and crash.”
Bern Case, director of the Medford airport, says the FAA considers the five miles around the airport as Class D airspace under direct supervision of air traffic control.
So far, he says, pilots of manned aircraft operating out of the airport haven’t reported any major conflicts with drones in their airspace. “We’ve been fortunate in that regard,” he says. “I think drones are here to stay."
Conflicts with other aircraft aren't the only potential issues posed by drone use. In June, a 25-year-old woman was knocked unconscious when a drone plummeted from the sky during the Seattle Pride Parade. Earlier that month, the British Daily Mail newspaper reported that a famous cathedral in Milan, Italy, was damaged when a group of tourists accidentally crashed a drone into its roof. Locally, the Mail Tribune has received dozens of letters from readers concerned about neighbors flying drones over their homes and yards.
Where drones conflict with existing property and privacy laws is a legal area whose boundaries are still being defined. Local law enforcement officers have said that unless the drones are being operated in a way that directly endangers another person, such as being recklessly flown into automobile traffic, there aren’t any criminal charges that can be filed. While the FAA can impose civil penalties on drone pilots violating its regulations, any federal criminal actions have to be investigated and prosecuted by the U.S. Department of Justice.
State law does provide civil protections for homeowners who feel their privacy is being invaded by the tiny aircraft. House Bill 2710, passed by the Oregon Legislature in 2010, allows property owners to pursue legal action against drone pilots who fly their aircraft less than 400 feet over private land without permission.
The law requires that the property owner notify the drone pilot of his wishes prior to pursuing a lawsuit, which could recover any damages resulting from future trespass and create an injunction against further flights.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Reach reporter Thomas Moriarty at 541-776-4471, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at @ThomasDMoriarty.