Got a drone for Christmas? Here’s what you need to know
Editor’s note: Aarons is also an FAA Safety Team (FAAST) representative for small Unmanned Aerial Systems (sUAS).
Many Ridgefielders will find quadcopters (drones) under the Christmas tree this year. The flying cameras are technological marvels, wonderful camera platforms and a whole lot of fun. And, perhaps surprisingly, they are real aircraft regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). For those of us who will use these unmanned aircraft for purely recreational purposes, the FAA tells us to follow the regulations (and common-sense limits) below:
- Fly below 400 feet.
- Always fly within visual line of sight.
- Check for temporary flight restrictions at faa.gov/go/uastfr.
- Never fly over groups of people.
- Never fly over stadiums and sports events.
- Never fly near emergency response efforts such as fires or accidents.
- Never fly near other aircraft.
- Never fly at night.
- Never fly under the influence.
- Register your drone with the FAA if it weighs .55 pounds or more.
- Never fly within five miles of an airport without first contacting air traffic control and airport authorities.
The last two items require special attention.
The registration requirement has been on and off. Currently it’s on. That means someone in your household who is 13 years or older must register your drone with the FAA. It’s easy. Just go to https://registermyuas.faa.gov and sign up. You’ll need a credit card for the $5 fee.
You’ll receive an FAA registration number that has to be visible somewhere on the drone. (A label maker tape works fine.)
The requirement that you fly at least five miles away from an airport, or notify the tower or owner of your operations, is important. Danbury Airport’s airspace covers all of Ridgebury and most of Ridgefield north of the fountain at routes 33 and 35.
The air traffic control tower at Danbury is operational during daylight hours seven days weekly. So if you live north of the fountain and want to fly your drone — even in the back yard — give the ATC tower a call at 203-748-6375.
The first time you call, they will put your name in their “Drone book” along with your FAA registration number and your contact information.
Tell them where you want to fly — for example: “I will be flying under 300 feet, 2.5 miles southeast of the airport from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.”
Typically, the controller will say, “Thanks for calling,” and that will be it. The next time you call, just give your name and say, “I’m in the book.” The controller will then simply ask your flight location and times.
Most Christmas Day drone accidents arise from attempts to fly the drone in the house — don’t do it. Most of the other accidents come from violation of the best practices listed above and failure to read the user manual.
The Ridgefield Office of Emergency Management (OEM) will sponsor its second annual Drone Safety Clinic on Saturday, Feb. 10, from 10 a.m. to noon. Location and details will be announced soon. This is a great opportunity to talk with experienced drone pilots and FAA representatives to get your questions answered and keep your drone operations safe, fun and legal.