The Drone Dilemma, Part 2: Legal

Writing about drones could be a daily blog. As the industry evolves, many things are changing rapidly. Because Planet Analog is about technology, I’ll stick to a few basic subjects regarding these technical marvels. I feel the technology relates to us all in the way that technology is not always good. Sometimes technology causes more problems than it solves. Drones are a perfect example of this. That is why I am trying to focus this blog on legal aspects while planning future blogs on air space and privacy. If you missed my first blog The Drone Dilemma, Part 1: The Lack of Bandwidth and Signal Strength, it was about the lack of bandwidth for flying drones. I’m sure as an engineer you will be able to identify with airwave overload of that nature as the spectrum bulges.

There is no doubt that legal subjects intermix with privacy and air space. So the legal subject matter that is referred to herein will focus on drone registration and the development of laws and regulation. Other legal matters such as privacy and air space will be covered separately.

Every time I have wanted to start this article, another story pops up about drones and the legal aspects. A new law passed on December 21, 2015 requiring drones to be registered if they weighed over a half a pound or 0.55 lbs to be exact. If you read Got a Drone? Get it Registered you will see they forgot the leading zero so it looks like fifty five pounds and not 0.55. Once one realizes how much this weight is in terms of available drones it’s likely that almost every drone sold is supposed to be registered. That includes those sold to children over Christmas for the purpose of entertainment. The registration process prompted 45,000 registrations by the January 1, date of this article: FAA says more than 45K people register drones in first two days. Note how drone manufacturers will make lighter drones to sidestep this law in the same way scooter manufacturers make 49cc models to avoid the 50cc and over driver licensing requirements.

With the drone market in the billions and prices as low as $30, there is no doubt that millions of drones are being operated illegally. One such event I learned of was overheard regarding a New Year’s block party in Tempe, Arizona. I inquired about the story and was told the police were arresting those who were flying over the party. A web search resulted in no related articles on the top page. However, there was this reference from a year and a half ago: “The City of Phoenix is Making War on Camera Drone Pilots!”. Interestingly enough the article references case law regarding exemptions for media. However no mention is made of one of the hottest markets for drones, real estate. In the ever escalating effort to sell property, aerial drone images are one reason for the large number of drones being purchased.

In addition to registration, drone pilots can obtain a license to fly. The license requirements are changing rapidly. Therefore I’m not about to quote anything regarding the law. A search of the web yielded this publication: Drone Certification: A Step-by-Step Guide to FAA 333 Exemption for U.S. Commercial Drone Pilots. Note this website also sidesteps legality by claiming not to be lawyers.

If you prefer to get your information straight form the horse’s mouth then this website might help you: Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Frequently Asked Questions. Realize however that laws vary by state, county, and even municipalities. Ignorance is not a defense in most cases so understand the laws at all levels and not just the federal regulations.

Of course legal matters are the source for entertainment that will raise an eyebrow regarding what people can and can’t get away with. One article that addresses this is The Craziest Drone Related Arrests. One other aspect of drone legality needs to be noted. Judges and lawyers are quick to reference case law when deciding or arguing cases, respectively. As case law mounts and stories such as these are decided in the courts, there will be some guidance provided for operation. However, don’t be surprised if you are sharpening your flying skills in the local park and you feel a tap on the shoulder only to turn around and see Johnny law standing there.

Perhaps my readers have caught on to my quirky sense of humor in these blogs. Thus far, this blog has been very boring and lacking of humor. If you want some drone humor, search “Tom Mabe Halloween prank.” Tom Mabe is a cult hero of sorts having started his comedy by encouraging phone solicitors to call him so that he could weave a comical yarn into the response.

In closing, I can’t write about legal subjects without slinging some legalize. I have been reviewing patents recently and also spent many years going over military specifications. I have defended myself in court on small cases such as my divorce. I have grown accustomed to some of the legalize and of course my warped sense of humor sees it differently than most. So I close by saying that said defenses resulted in case law that was used against me insofar as a judge worrying more about covering his body parts in a decision rather that invoking fairness. At least I didn’t write my number one pet peeve in government and legal proceedings, “This Page Intentionally Left Blank”. I don’t know how many government pages have that written on them or how much it cost in terms of tax payer dollars and dead trees. I do however realize I can’t put that as my only blog entry and expect to keep you the audience informed or my editor Steve Taranovich happy.


  1. Got a Drone? Get it Registered, December 31, 2015 by Editorial Team
  2. FAA says more than 45K people register drones in first two days, Written By NBC News, Posted: Jan 01, 2016 1:21 PM MSTUpdated: Dec 23, 2015 1:21 PM MST.
  3. Drone Certification: A Step-by-Step Guide to FAA 333 Exemption for U.S. Commercial Drone Pilots, Total Number of FAA 333 Exemptions Granted: 3087, Last Updated: January 20th, 2016.
  4. The Craziest Drone Related Arrests, no date or author given, ©Copyright 2016 TSC TechDay Inc. TechDay is a division of The Startup Companies Inc.
  5. Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Frequently Asked Questions

2 comments on “The Drone Dilemma, Part 2: Legal

  1. Work to Ride, RIde to Work
    January 27, 2016

    Technology does not cause bad or stupid behavior in people. 

  2. Effective-Technical-Writing dot com
    January 27, 2016

    I agree that technology does not cause the problem however it is an enabler.  Most of the drone issue is with the enhanced ability to invade privacy especially by Paparazzi and law enforcement.  Also, the walls that are common for sun bathing in Arizona will no longer keep peepers from peeping.  So in that manner, techology is viewed as bad by some people.  Myself, I choose to refrain from the argument as it could get sticky.  

    In my junior year of engineering college, we were made to take an ethics class on technology.  When the professor asked if technology was good, every person except one raised their hands.  After he presented material to the contrary, there was some switching of sides on the issue.  

    Because drones are controversial, I must present both good and bad, regardless of how I view it.  I present the material with an open invitation for the audience to debate it.  This is not a one way blog that shoves material down your throat.  Instead, I research a subject and present it for others to weigh in on.

    If there is one thing that I have learned it is that there is always someone smarter and more knowlegeable than I.  Therefore, I'm always open to input and encourage especially where I am mistaken on a subject.  Notice I didn't say, wro– wro— wro—-.  I have the hardest time saying wrong like the Fonz did.  Oh well, I thought I was wrong once but I was mistaken.  See the humor, please.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.