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FAA clarifies power of local authorities

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Photo: Bangor Daily News

The FAA posted this press release on their website to explain the power cities and municipalities have over drone flights. They explain that local authorities are only able to prohibit taking off and landing on land they own.

“State and local governments are not permitted to regulate any type of aircraft operations, such as flight paths or altitudes, or the navigable airspace.”

The FAA goes on to state that:

“Cities and municipalities are not permitted to have their own rules or regulations governing the operation of aircraft.”

While local authorities cannot prevent you from flying over land they own, you still must follow the hobby flying rules when flying (or the Part 107 rules if flying commercially). For example, you’ll be limited to the distance you can fly over private property since you’re legally required to be able to see the drone with your eyes (known as flying within VLOS).


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Overview of current hobbyist FAA rules (5/17/19)

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As of 5/17/19, here’s a complete list of rules hobbyists must follow when flying outdoors in the US:

  • Register your drone with the FAA

  • Mark your registration number on the exterior of the drone

  • Fly a drone under 55 lbs

  • Fly only for hobby or recreation

  • Follow the safety guidelines of a nationwide community-based organization (CBO)

  • Keep your drone within your visual line of sight (VLOS) of the person operating the drone or within the visual line of sight of a visual observer (VO) who is near the operator and able to communicate verbally

  • Follow all FAA airspace restrictions, special security instructions, and temporary flight restrictions (TFRs)

  • Don’t fly over people

  • Don’t fly near other manned aircraft

  • Don’t fly near emergency response activities

  • Don’t fly under the influence of drugs or alcohol

  • Don’t fly above 400 feet in uncontrolled airspace (Class G)

  • Don’t fly in controlled airspace (Classes B, C, D, and E) without FAA authorization

Note: Following the rules above will both ensure you’re obeying US law and help you operate your drone safely. Keep in mind that the FAA has the authority to pursue enforcement action against people operating drones in a manner that they determine endangers the safety of the national airspace system (NAS). You could be liable if you harm other people and/or property even if you follow all of the rules above.

New Rule Changes

With the release of the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 and new Exception for Limited Recreational Operations of Unmanned Aircraft notice released today, a few rules have been changed for hobbyists. Those changes include the following:

Follow the safety guidelines of a nationwide community-based organization (CBO)

The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 requires the FAA and community-based aeromodelling organizations (CBOs) to coordinate the development of safety guidelines for recreational small unmanned aircraft operations. As of today, no recognized CBOs or coordinated safety guidelines exist. Until the FAA establishes the criteria and process and begins recognizing CBOs, they are allowing pilots to do one of the following:

  • Operate in accordance with existing safety guidelines of an aeromodelling organization (like the AMA) as long as those guidelines do not conflict with existing FAA rules.

  • Follow the FAA’s existing safety guidelines – which are based on industry best practices.

Note: When following the rules of a CBO (or aeromodelling organization), you should be able to explain to an FAA inspector or law enforcement official which safety guidelines you are following.

Keep your drone within your visual line of sight (VLOS) of the person operating the drone or visual observer (VO)

Previously, the FAA required the operator to maintain VLOS. As of today, the FAA also allows a (VO to maintain VLOS. The VO must be near the operator and be able to communicate verbally without the assistance of an electronic device. Using a VO generally is optional, but a VO is required if the operator is wearing FPV glasses/goggles that make it impossible to maintain VLOS.

Don’t fly above 400 feet in uncontrolled airspace (Class G)

Class G airspace is uncontrolled airspace in which the FAA does not provide air traffic services. You may operate your drone in this airspace up to an altitude of 400 feet above ground level (AGL).

Don’t fly in controlled airspace (Classes B, C, D, and E) without FAA authorization

Classes B, C, D, and E are controlled airspace. The FAA has created different classes of airspace to reflect whether aircraft receive air traffic control services and to note levels of complexity, traffic density, equipment, and operating requirements that exist for aircraft flying through different parts of controlled airspace. These airspace classes are usually found near airports.

Before flying in controlled airspace, you must request authorization through the FAA’s online LAANC system using an app like AirMap or one of the other apps listed here. Since the LAANC system is currently only available for commercial pilots, the FAA is only allowing hobbyists to fly in Class G airspace or authorized fixed sites located within controlled airspace. The FAA will provide notice when LAANC is available for hobbyists.

Note: A current list of authorized fixed sites can be found in this spreadsheet or on the FAA UAS Data map (represented as blue dots). When flying at a fixed site in controlled airspace, you must adhere to the operating limitations of the fixes site’s agreement. See the fixed site’s sponsor for more details.


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Official DJI statement on GPS 2019 Week Rollover

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Per this statement from DJI, they are aware of the upcoming GPS week rollover and have confirmed that DJI drones will not be affected by the week rollover.

What is the GPS Week Number Rollover (WNRO)?

Garmin explains it like this:

The GPS system is world renowned for its ability to provide accurate and reliable positioning and timing information worldwide. The GPS satellites transmit to users the date and time accurate to nanoseconds. However, back in 1980, when the GPS system first began to keep track of time, the date and time was represented by a counter that could only count forward to a maximum of 1024 weeks, or about 19.7 years. After 1024 weeks had elapsed, this counter “rolled over” to zero, and GPS time started counting forward again. This first rollover occurred in August of 1999. The second rollover will occur on April 6, 2019.

Want to learn more about WNRO? Check out this article from Lisa Perdue, a world-leading expert in testing critical GPS and GNSS systems:

The GPS 2019 Week Rollover – What You Need to Know


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FAA requiring drones to be marked externally by February 25

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The FAA recently posted the External Marking Requirement for Small Unmanned Aircraft rule in the Federal Register to require drone owners to display their FAA registration number on an outside surface of the drone. This new rule goes into effect on February 25, 2019. All drones must be marked externally when flying outdoors by that date.

Reason for this change

Members of the law enforcement and security communities have expressed concern that the current rule, which allows registration numbers to be marked in an enclosed compartment, presents an imminent risk of harm to first responders. When responding to a security incident involving a drone, first responders seek to identify the owner or operator. Requiring first responders to physically handle a drone to obtain the registration number poses an unnecessary safety and security risk to those individuals, as well as to others in the immediate proximity to the drone, because of the potential for the drone to conceal an explosive device in an enclosed compartment (such as the battery compartment), designed to detonate upon opening. Requiring drone owners to place the registration number on an external surface of the drone helps to mitigate this risk because a first responder can view the number without handling the drone, or by using other technologies that allow for remote viewing of the drone’s external surface.

Drone marking requirements

This interim final rule does not change the original acceptable methods of external marking, nor does it specify a particular external surface on which the registration number must be placed. The requirement is that it can be seen upon visual inspection of the drone’s exterior.

Make your voice heard

The FAA has issued this new requirement as an Interim Final Rule. That means the rule will take effect while also inviting the public to share their comments. The FAA issues interim final rules when delaying implementation of the rule would be impractical, unnecessary, or contrary to the public interest. In this case, the FAA determined the importance of mitigating the risk to first responders outweighs the minimal inconvenience this change may impose on small drone owners, and justifies implementation without a prior public comment period.

The FAA will consider all comments submitted by the public here to determine if the provisions of the ultimate Final Rule should be changed. The 30-day comment period ends on March 15, 2019.


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Accessories

DJI Smart Controller with built-in screen

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DJI just released their new DJI Smart Controller at CES 2019. It features a ultra-bright built-in screen and is compatible with all Mavic 2 models and other DJI drones that use OcuSync 2.0.

Main features

  • Crystal-clear live feeds

  • Ultra-bright 5.5-inch screen (viewable in direct sunlight)

  • Intuitive controls

  • Android operating system

  • 3rd party app support

  • HDMI output

  • Easy file sharing

  • 2.5 hour battery life

Price and availability

The DJI Smart Controller retails for $649 USD and is currently available in the DJI Store in select regions. If it’s not currently available where you live, you can click the In Stock Reminder button to receiver an email when it’s available.

Take a closer look

Here are a few reviews from people who received the DJI Smart Controller prior to DJI’s announcement:


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Deals

10% off Mavic 2 with educational discount

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DJI is currently offering 10% off of the Mavic 2 Pro and Mavic 2 Zoom (and some other products) with their educational discount. To take advantage of this offer, you need to be a student, educator, or academic research staff member and have an approved academic email address. See more details here.


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DJI launches Download Center to make software easier to find

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The new DJI Download Center is a centralized repository of software for all of DJI’s products. The following downloads can be found in the Download Center:

  • DJI mobile apps (DJI GO, DJI Pilot, DJI Mimo, etc.)

  • DJI Assistant 2

  • Transcoders (for editing video footage)

  • Drivers

  • And all of the other software that drives DJI’s products

You can also find the latest version of each application (helpful when checking if you’re on the latest version), mobile device requirements, and release notes for a list of recent changes and fixes.


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