When a man shot down a neighbor’s drone flying over his property in Ascension Parish this month after it had upset his wife for weeks, it was one more in a queue of recent drone-related dramas.
A drone crashing at the White House earlier this year, another one coming down last month into the University of Kentucky football stadium during a game with the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
Drones are in the news and not always in a good way.
Joe Dloniak, founder of the Baton Rouge Drone Club, started a Facebook page for the club to help educate people about flying drones.
“We try to get people to start flying responsibly,” Dloniak said.
“There’s a lot more good you can do with drones than bad, but the bad stuff is what shows up,” said Dloniak, whose approximately 1,600 club members regularly fly their drones in regional and national sanctioned races.
One reason for the problems that have surfaced over flying drones for fun may be that the pastime is, in effect, self-regulated.
The Federal Aviation Administration, which regulates airspace from the ground up, doesn’t require operators of model aircraft — a category that includes the devices commonly called drones — to get FAA authorization, although it does require permission for public or commercial drone use.
The FAA advises people flying drones for recreation to operate the devices according to the safety standards of nationwide community-based organizations for hobbyists.
The federal agency describes model aircraft as those flown strictly for hobby or recreational use and that weigh no more than 55 pounds.
The FAA has enforcement powers, however, if the hobbyist flies his or her drone in a careless or reckless way — flying close to people or to airports, for example — with fines up to $25,000.
“We have started 20 enforcement cases in the last four years. Most are against individuals,” said Les Dorr, the FAA’s mid-states public affairs manager based in Washington, D.C.
Last year, before the holiday gift-giving season, the FAA partnered with several organizations, including the nonprofit Academy of Model Aeronautics and the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International to launch an education campaign called Know Before You Fly.
Six manufacturers and distributors — Castle, DJI, Hobbico, Horizon, Yuneec and UAV Experts — are including the Know Before You Fly brochure in their product packaging.
“The campaign is really directed to this new community of (drone) users,” said Rich Hanson, director of regulatory and governmental affairs for the Academy of Model Aeronautics, based in Muncie, Indiana.
“Membership is growing, in large part because of this community, over the last three years,” he said.
The 180,000-member-strong AMA, founded in 1936, is reportedly the largest community-based organization in the U.S. for model aircraft enthusiasts.
Hanson notes that people taking up model airplanes learn how to operate them through years of activities with their families and local clubs and hobby shops.
Drone enthusiasts, on the other hand, are getting into the hobby after hearing about it on the news or Internet, Hanson said, often ordering their first drone online.
The AMA’s safety guidelines, he said, are “common sense.”
Last week, Lt. Col. Bobby Webre, of the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office said no arrests will be made in the Oct. 6 incident when Derek Vidrine, out squirrel hunting on his property, shot down a drone he said a neighbor had been flying over his property for weeks, making his wife feel like she was being watched, and especially dangerous when she was riding her horse.
The owner of the drone, Aaron Hernandez, said his camera-equipped drone could be flown only for short periods of time and flew too high to film people on the ground.
Webre, explaining the decision not to charge Vidrine, said Hernandez had been warned by the husband and wife to not fly the drone over their property and that there was potential danger with the drone spooking the horse while the woman was riding.
Webre noted there have been several arrests across the country for shooting down a drone, but said that “in most every case, the drone was shot in an urban or suburban area.”
“This was in pasture land,” Webre said of the local incident.
“I think there’s going to be a state law one day” on this issue, said Webre, who previously said the two laws in Louisiana regulating drones involve one that allows farmers to use the devices to photograph their crops and one that restricts drones from flying in certain areas, such as government buildings and industrial plants.
“The crazy thing about this is for us, the Sheriff’s Office, to fly a drone, we’ve got to have a flying certificate to fly it” after being certified through training.
“But you could walk into a store and get one,” he said.