Monday, April 28, 2014

Drones: What you'll have to do to fly one in North Carolina

So, you want to fly a drone.

In North Carolina, you’re out of luck.

But that’s today. Legislators took a step in your direction last week, discussing via panel potential regulations regarding commercial and government use of unmanned aircraft.

And, shortly after the meeting, Rep, John Torbett (R-Gaston) explained some of the finer points being discussed- particularly how- should the legislation pass- you’d go about flying.

The first step? You’d have to go to the North Carolina Department of Transportation’s aviation division.

It’s similar to getting your driver’s license, he says.

“Right now, you have to take a written test,” he says. “Then you also have to have an operational capability test.”

That’s where, at a designated spot, you prove you know your drones.

“It’s so we know that you know how to go out and operate one,” he says. “Then you could be issued a license.”

And that license carries with it a weighty responsibility. Should you make a misstep, such as interfering with a passenger airliner, you could face felony charges.

And you can’t take photographs of people without their permission. That caveat extends to law enforcement using drones, as well. Anything you need a warrant for currently, you’ll still need a warrant when you’re using a drone.

“It’s just an additional tool,” he says.

Commercial fliers have another barrier — and that’s the Federal Aviation Administration. Currently, the FAA doesn’t allow you to use your drone in the commercial space. But again, that’s today. The Federal Communications Commission is expected to roll out its own regulations allowing for commercial drone flights by the end of the year. So Torbett says he and the rest of the committee thought it was important to prepare for those regulations.

“We wanted to put the horse in front of the car for once and have at least something preparing us for December,” he says. The wording of the proposed legislation is such that it can easily be adopted for commercial flights, making North Carolina “ahead of the game.”

“I think as far as providing opportunity for growth in a new and emerging market, I believe we provided that,” he says.

While Amazon may be the most famous company aiming to use drones in the commercial space, it’s not the only one.

The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International has estimated the industry could create 1,200 jobs and $600 million in economic activity in North Carolina by 2025.