DRONES: What are the rules of flying?



Sweeping aerial views, descents into rugged canyons and swift yet steady movements across landscapes – these are just some of the sights captured by camera drones.

The unmanned aircraft have produced captivating video and provided hours of fun for operators. In the process, they have swelled into a niche market, becoming one of the hottest-selling tech items in the country.

But they also have created headaches.

They have been a serious issue for pilots, who have had close calls during firefighting aerial drops and airport landings. Social media posts about privacy invasions – real and perceived – plus news stories about vigilantes destroying bothersome drones have highlighted other problem areas for the aircraft.

Harry Horlock, a 93-year-old drone enthusiast, said he can understand the pull and fun of flying a drone. Yet people need to take a commonsense approach when operating them, he said.

“It’s up to each individual,” he said. “They’ve got to use their own head.”

A member of the Temecula Valley Flyers, Horlock flies drones because he said they are easier to use than fixed-wing model aircraft. He said he flies them in a field near Temecula Valley Wine Country and even keeps his flight limited to certain areas of the field that are away from parking lots and other traffic.

The rapid growth of drones has outstripped the rules and etiquette governing them. But hobbyist organizations and government agencies are catching up.

One thing appears certain: Drones are here to stay.

Scot Demmer, a partner in Corona-based drone company PMG Multi-Rotors, said his company has seen at least a 1,000 percent sales growth in the last year.

“In the past two years, it’s been a significant increase in awareness and purchases,” Demmer said.

With their proliferation, legislators in both Sacramento and Washington are trying to adopt laws and rules to govern activities. A number of bills have been introduced already.

Some would determine how closely drones can hover near homes and other structures. Some call for penalties for flying into active police and fire scenes. Others would allow first responders to knock drones out of the sky.

One includes a call for “geofencing” technology – software that would program drones to turn around when approaching restricted flying areas.

“I truly believe the recreational people are not trying to stop us from firefighting,” said Lucas Spelman, a fire captain for the Riverside County Fire Department. “I think they just don’t realize they’re inhibiting one of our best tools.”

Those tools include aerial tankers, which were grounded in the recent North and Lake fires when drones were spotted in the area.

Spelman said drone users need to use one rule of thumb when there’s a fire: Keep the drones grounded.

“If any of our aircraft come in contact with one of those, they could be damaged or actually brought down,” Spelman said.

He added that he hopes as time goes forward, the need to keep drones away from fire will become more clear and there will be fewer instances of grounded planes.

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