Know the law before flying a drone

They are becoming a common sight in Northern Michigan, much like seagulls and other birds in the air.

This sight is not a feather friend. Our skies of Northern Michigan are starting to see more drones or unmanned aerial systems (UAS).

These machines are fun and allow users to capture some stunning aerial images, either photographs or video. But too often those flying drones don’t seem to understand there are rules.

The operator of the drone must have a license to fly it in some cases. A person who is using the drone for any sort of commercial purpose — real estate, journalism or professional imaging services, for example — is required to obtain a license.

To obtain an FAA license, a person must be at least 16, “be in physical and mental condition to safely operate a small UAS” and pass a written test. The process also include a security background check

There are several flight rules that licensed and unlicensed pilots must follow:

— Drones must give way (stay out of the way) of manned aircraft.

— Operators must keep the aircraft in sight (visual line-of-sight)

— Drones must be under 55 pounds

— Operators must follow community-based safety guidelines

— Operators need to notify airport and air traffic control tower before flying within 5 miles of an airport

On its website, the FAA offers these “safety guidelines” for hobby or recreational (non-licensed) drone operators:

— Fly at or below 400 feet and stay away from surrounding obstacles

— Keep your UAS within sight

— Never fly near other aircraft, especially near airports

— Never fly over groups of people (we’ve noticed pilots violating this one at almost every festival this summer)

— Never fly over stadiums or sports events (this includes the Petoskey Northmen stadium)

— Never fly near emergency response efforts such as fires

— Never fly under the influence of drugs or alcohol

— Understand airspace restrictions and requirements

The FAA lists the following as “must” rules for licensed drone operation:

— Must keep the aircraft in sight (visual line-of-sight)

— Must fly at altitudes under 400 feet

— Must fly during the day

— Must fly at or below 100 mph

— Must yield right of way to manned aircraft

— Must NOT fly over people

— Must NOT fly from a moving vehicle

Following these rules is not only a safety issue for the public, but helps spread good attitudes about drones and drone pilots.

News-Review (Petosky)