By: Erik Boos
When people hear the word “drone”, often they do not picture male honeybees, instead they envision a sophisticated piece of military hardware with menacing capabilities. How about an ultra light, quad rotor, gyroscopically stabilized, capable of 360 degree flips, a 500 foot range, and equipped with a high definition camera and with 2,147,483,684 bytes of on board data storage? Such a highly sophisticated piece of technology could be bought from Sharper Image for $199.99. If somehow this example does not the expectations of a drone simply by the cost and source, the question must be asked: what makes a drone a drone?
Model aircraft enthusiasts are in an uproar over proposed FAA regulations governing the use of drones. Yet model aircraft are exempt from drone regulations, and instead are governed by Public Law 112-93 § 336, provided, inter alia, they are used for recreational purposes. So, while the traditional view of model aircraft is a scaled replica of a helicopter or an airplane, some enthusiasts may prefer a rather non-traditional craft such as a highly maneuverable quad rotorcraft such as the one in the above example. Does that make it a drone?
The distinction between a “drone” and a model aircraft does not follow the form, but only the function. To be exempt from FAA regulations regarding drones, a hobbyist must comply with all the criteria in Public Law 112-93 § 336. Simply, the use of the aircraft must be for recreational use, not commercial (sorry Amazon and Dominos) or surveillance use. Even having an onboard camera does not disqualify a craft from operating as a model aircraft provided that the footage being shot is innocuous (e.g. not invading other’s privacy, or being used to track people’s whereabouts). “Drone”, in this context, appears to be nothing more then a buzzword, and model aircraft enthusiasts need not worry about their hobby being subject to greater restrictions.
Bio: Erik is a Staff Member of the Journal of High Technology Law. He is currently a 2L at Suffolk Law and is a candidate for an LL.M in Taxation. He holds a B.A. in History from Worcester State University.