Wednesday, August 5, 2020
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Can you fly a drone over a school?

A teacher from New York was arrested at the US Open tennis tournament yesterday in connection with a drone that he crashed into empty stands, the BBC reports.

Daniel Verley, 26, faces reckless endangerment and other charges tied to his operation of a drone outside of a prescribed area. No injuries were reported, although the drone interrupted a match at the Louis Armstrong Stadium. Flavia Pennetta, whose match was interrupted, reportedly feared the worst.

“With everything going on in the world … I thought, ‘OK, it’s over.’ That’s how things happen,” the BBC quoted her as saying, citing news reports from the Associated Press.

Safe (and common sense) flight plans for drones

Drones have become increasingly popular lately. The Federal Aviation Administration regulates the airspace in the US, basically from the ground up, and the administration has a few rules that need to be followed:

  • Drones must operate below 400 feet.
  • They must remain within sight of the operator.
  • They can’t fly within five miles of an airport without special permission.
  • No-fly zones also include some government buildings, national parks, & military installations.

You’re not allowed to get in the way of air traffic, but the Washington Post said that dozens of close calls have been documented between drones and commercial aircraft or Life Flight helicopters.

Other than that, drones, which can be purchased with a complete GPS navigation system for around $300, fall under the realm of “hobbies” and are governed mostly by common sense. The FAA has proposed guidelines, but because of a long approval process, those couldn’t possibly be in place before 2017 or so. This means regulation is left up to individual states at this time.

California, in fact, has a bill that just passed the state Senate that will ban drone flights over public schools, SF reports.

In terms of common sense, though, you probably wouldn’t want to fly too close to buildings, since you might cause property damage. Just because there’s no law or regulation prohibiting you from flying in a certain airspace doesn’t mean you wouldn’t be liable for any damage you cause. That’s what happened at the US Open, although criminal charges are also pending.

Next, you probably wouldn’t want to fly over private property and take pictures or videos. People in their private homes, hotel rooms, hospitals, and so on, have a reasonable expectation of privacy that drone operators have no more right to violate than anyone who’s not flying a drone. If you infringe on someone’s right to privacy, you could be liable in federal court.

Flights of drones aren’t specifically prohibited over schools on a national scale, but the combination of the above two “common sense” guidelines may put flights over schools on shaky legal ground. Find out from local law enforcement or an attorney what the rules are when and wherever you may want to fly your drone.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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