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The Air Up There Podcast

I Bought a Drone. Now What?

Season 2, Episode 11
Published: Friday, May 14, 2021

Although our host, Dominique Gebru, doesn't know much about drones, she really wants to get one! Lucky for her, FAA has everything she needs to become a certified drone pilot. In this episode, she speaks with an FAA drone expert, Danielle Corbett, and learns the dos and don'ts of drone flying. Don't have access to your own personal FAA Drone Expert? Feel free to contact the UAS Support Center, where they'll answer all of your burning drone questions. The FAA has countless resources that you can access online, as well as drone-specific social media accounts on Facebook and Twitter. The FAA has recently implemented two new rules: Operations Over People and Part 107, and you can learn more here.

I Bought a Drone. Now What?

I Bought a Drone. Now What?

Transcript

Dominique Gebru:
Hi, I'm Dominique Gebru.

Allen Kenitzer:
I'm Allen Kenitzer and you're listening to The Air Up There, a podcast from the FAA.

Dominique Gebru:
Allen, I've been thinking. I think I want to buy a drone.

Allen Kenitzer:
Really? What would you use it for?

Dominique Gebru:
Well, Allen, you know I spend a lot of time on social media and I've been seeing some really awesome drone photography out there and I want to just try it out for myself, so I might try some drone photography.

Allen Kenitzer:
I think that's a great idea, Dominique. However, if you do decide to buy one, make sure that you comply with the FAA's rules and regulations for drone pilots.

Dominique Gebru:
Of course. I wouldn't be a good FAA employee if I didn't. That's why I spoke with Danielle Corbett, one of the FAA's drone experts. Danielle works as an aviation safety inspector in the FAA's Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Office, where she leads teams on the development and implementation of regulations, policy, and guidance for small UAS. "Small UAS" is just another way of saying drone. I talked with Danielle about all of the drone piloting rules that I need to be aware of because you don't know what you don't know, so here's my conversation with Danielle.

Dominique Gebru:
Danielle, thanks so much for taking some time to sit down with me today. As I shared with you, I have a lot of questions, so why don't we start with you and the work that you do in the UAS support center? For that matter, what is the support center?

Danielle Corbett:
Great question. Wonderful to be here and thanks for having me, Dominique. I'm Danielle Corbett. I run the support and outreach team in the Office of Integration at the FAA, the Office of UAS Integration. My job oversees a few different things, one of which is the support center, so we'll start there since you asked about it. The support center is basically a call center that you can call the FAA and ask any question that you have about UAS and we will give you the answer or find it if we don't know it. It's pretty outstanding that you can call a federal agency as big as the FAA and as complex is the FAA and we actually pick up the phone. If you call us at the support center, we will pick up the phone. You will talk to a real person that works in our office. If you send us an email, we'll respond to you. It's kind of the best customer service you can get these days.

Dominique Gebru:
That does sound really outstanding. I'm always afraid of asking silly questions, but do you see a certain type of question come in more often than the other, just anecdotally?

Danielle Corbett:
That's a great question. Yeah, I mean it ebbs and flows. It's interesting because it really helps us get into the mindset of what's going on out there and what policy issues may be coming up or bubbling up, so consistently we get questions, really basic questions: "I got a drone, what do I do with it? How do I register? I'm confused," or right now we have some new rulemaking coming out for remote ID and operations over people, and there's a new training element to it, so we're getting a lot of questions about the training and how to access it and what does it mean, so it definitely ebbs and flows with what's going on out there.

Dominique Gebru:
That makes a lot of sense. I bet it's a great way to do a pulse check on how our messaging is going for people.

Danielle Corbett:
True.

Dominique Gebru:
Yeah. All right, well, this is a weird episode. I'm going to say, "Let's talk about me."

Danielle Corbett:
Let's talk about you.

Dominique Gebru:
I am really into photography and for a while now, I've been interested in buying a drone, just so I can expand to a cool new type of photography. What do I need to do?

Danielle Corbett:
That's probably the most common question we get at the support center. We're just glad that you're asking. The first thing that you should do is find a drone that works for you. I mean, it's an exciting purchase. You should get to know your drone and figure out what kind of photography you're going to do and what equipment works best for you. The second thing you're going to do is you're going to receive your drone and you should open up and learn how it works. While your batteries are charging, you can do the third most important thing, which is to register.

Danielle Corbett:
Almost all drones required to be registered with the FAA, unless there's a very narrow exception for drones that are flown just for fun, which in this case, it sounds like you're not because you're adding it onto your business, it sounds like, or maybe you're just... Maybe I misunderstood the question. If you just like to take pictures and you want to take pictures with a drone, you have to register it, so you would go to the FAADroneZone. The easiest thing to do is just google it and register your UAS.

Danielle Corbett:
While you're in there, you'll be introduced to some of the basic rules and safety guidelines for how to operate it. Some of them are really obvious, like don't hit stuff, don't get in the way of airplanes and things like that. Some of them require just a little bit more insight before you get out there and take to flying and that's the hardest part is the waiting. I actually bought a model aircraft a couple of years ago before I worked here and I got so excited when it came, I took it out of the box and I wanted to fly it right away and I immediately crashed it into a tree, so don't do that.

Dominique Gebru:
Oh, no.

Danielle Corbett:
Yeah. Learn how it works. Then as you're looking through the requirements for the FAA requirements for operating safely, you'll find things like you're required to have an airspace authorization, and this is not something that's very intuitive and it can be very complex, but we have tools available to make it easy for you. I guess the moral of the story without getting into all the complexities or all of the requirements is to spend a little time on our website and on the DroneZone learning what those requirements are. Then you can get out there and fly.

Dominique Gebru:
Awesome. What's that website again? It's the DroneZone?

Danielle Corbett:
There's two different websites that you'll want to visit. Both are FAA websites. The first one is the FAADroneZone. The second one is faa.gov/uas. There's a section of the large Federal Aviation Administration website dedicated just to UAS stuff.

Dominique Gebru:
Awesome. UAS is unmanned aircraft systems, right?

Danielle Corbett:
Yes. I was just thinking that. You'll see terms used somewhat interchangeably and it can sometimes be a little bit confusing. UAS, unmanned aircraft systems is the technical term. When you look at regulations and more formal documents, you'll see that term used. The common vernacular is drones. At the end of the day, they mean the same thing.

Dominique Gebru:
Very good to know. Terminology can be a little confusing sometimes, so I appreciate it.

Danielle Corbett:
For sure.

Dominique Gebru:
Okay, so different scenario. Let's say I do want to start a photography business with my drone. Does that change anything? I think you were alluding to a little bit of a distinction there.

Danielle Corbett:
It does change the analysis somewhat. The basic safety rules are in place to keep everybody safe and so from a very fundamental point of view, a lot of the rules are similar. However, when you start a business, you're operating with a little bit more skin in the game, there's a likelihood that you'll be doing more complex things. Just like for operating a motor vehicle or any other thing, when you take it to that level, there's a different level of scrutiny that you have to meet in order to operate.

Danielle Corbett:
In this case, we have a set of rules called Part 107, which is the rules for small unmanned aircraft, which means anything under 55 pounds. Yet the rules are not really that burdensome. You're required to get a certificate, what we call a "certificate," or many people think of as a license, just like you would to drive a car. In order to get that, you have to take a written exam and you have to take that at a testing center and then you have just some more stringent requirements on where and when you can operate, so you'll have to become a little bit more familiar with the airspace and take into consideration the more complex requirements for doing things like flying higher, farther, faster, or under a deadline.

Dominique Gebru:
Got it. Really, at the forefront is safety, which I guess comes at no surprise, right? Basically, everything that the FAA does is with safety in mind, so I really appreciate the analogy of the drone certificate for Part 107 being sort of like a driver's license.

Danielle Corbett:
Yeah, and that's a really important point because sometimes you think, "I'm going to take this drone. I'm going to fly it real low in my backyard or over a building. What's the big deal?" In part, like you said, safety is at the core of everything that we do, and so if we have a uniform set of rules that everyone's following, then it follows that we should be safe and also secure.

Danielle Corbett:
This isn't necessarily the impetus for the rules, but if you think about public acceptance and watching this industry grow, when you watch a car drive and that car is speeding or swerving, you notice it because it's out of the ordinary, or if you see it go through a stop sign. You expect the car to stop at a stop sign and go straight, turn left, or right. People don't know what to expect. The general public don't know what to expect when operating drones. The more people comply with the rules and the more people operate in a predictable manner, the easier it is for people to operate, if that makes sense. You can go out and people will not ask you too many questions, or bother you, or it will become more obvious how to operate safely. That's what we're trying to get. At the end of the day, that's how a safety culture is born, when the rules become ubiquitous and everyone's following them.

Dominique Gebru:
That's awesome. Okay, Danielle, backing up a little bit. Let's say I've bought my drone and I've taken it out of the box. You mentioned something about charging batteries. Is this like when you get a new cell phone and they say you need to charge it fully? I mean, how serious is that step?

Danielle Corbett:
I don't know. I mean, the drone that I bought, I had to charge my batteries is the first step before I could go fly it. There are so many different kinds of drones out there and they all have different operating requirements. More to the point, that you really need to get familiar with your piece of equipment, what the requirements are, what the manufacturer recommends, how you operate it. Some manufacturers will give you a little bit of training, walk through the different components. But generally speaking, most commercial off-the-shelf small drones have batteries and a camera and rotating propellors. You really want to get familiar with your equipment before you go fly it so you don't end up in a tree like I did.

Dominique Gebru:
I definitely don't want that. Does the FAA recommend any courses or does the FAA offer or sponsor any courses?

Danielle Corbett:
The FAA does have a few courses available on the faasafety.gov website, which is our FAASTeam. They call it FAA safety team, and those courses are required. There's a couple of different courses with a couple of different requirements, not to get too into it. But for an example, I said if you're a commercial person operating under Part 107, you'd have to take a written test at a testing center. There's also a recurrent training online that you can take for free at this FAA safety website. That training is what we call "recurrent," so every 24 months, you have to take that training, but there's really good stuff in that training, so there's no sense in not taking it if you just need a refresher at any time.

Danielle Corbett:
There's also a lot of training out there by other providers. The FAA doesn't endorse that. Certainly, it doesn't require it, but the more you know, the more you know, and that's one of the best things about aviation is that it's a constant learning, so I would say keep yourself educated, take as much training as you can, talk to your friends and learn from their mistakes, learn from your own mistakes. That's how we all improve.

Dominique Gebru:
Yeah, developing a community of practice. I know there are lots of drone groups out there on social media where you can connect with others who are flying a similar piece of equipment. For-

Danielle Corbett:
You said that much more eloquently than I did. Yes, a community of practice. I'm going to steal that term. That's great.

Dominique Gebru:
... Cool. Yeah, that's fine by me. For our listeners, we'll definitely link all of the websites that Danielle has mentioned during this interview in the show notes for the episode, so wherever you're listening to this show right now, you can probably just scroll down and you'll find a link to the show notes.

Dominique Gebru:
All right, Danielle. I live in Washington, D.C., which I know is a special case. I know we've got a restricted airspace above us, but what kinds of things should I know about where I'm flying my drone? Am I allowed to just fly it anywhere? I assume the answer is no, but how do I figure out where I am allowed to fly my drone?

Danielle Corbett:
This is probably one of the most important areas, one of the most common questions we get in the support center, and often misunderstood, so I'm glad you asked it. Yeah, the whole airspace, we call the National Airspace System, there are certain parts of it generally near airports that require prior authorization before flying, whether you're a manned aircraft, a drone, or anything else. D.C. is a bit of an outlier. You guys have very strict requirements over there. There's a big circle around D.C. called the FRZ and then another one called the SFRA. If you live in those areas, you need to pay special attention to that. There's special requirements above and beyond airspace authorization.

Danielle Corbett:
We won't go into that, but we'll take where I live here in Atlanta. I live outside of the city, so it seems like it's a safe place to fly, but I don't really know where the nearby airports are. I see Delta flying overhead sometimes. I need to figure out if I can fly here. What do I do? I read about that in the DroneZone. I understand I need authorization sometimes. How do I find out? There's a couple of resources available. One is the Before You Fly app, which is available in the app store. This will help you do some flight planning. You could drop a pin wherever you are, or wherever you plan on flying, and you'll get some information about any airspace restrictions in that area and if you need an airspace authorization.

Danielle Corbett:
There's also service suppliers that are third parties, not the FAA, that are called LAANC service suppliers. "LAANC" is an acronym. It stands for Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability. These are service suppliers that facilitate airspace authorizations for the FAA, so if you're standing somewhere and you're like, "I'm going to fly. Do I need an airspace authorization?" you can pull up a LAANC application. It will say yes or no. You don't need a airspace authorization here. If it says yes, you can apply for it right then and there and then seconds later, they'll give you the airspace authorization. It will tell you if there's any other parameters. There may be an altitude limitation or something.

Danielle Corbett:
It's really important that you comply with the airspace authorizations and know what they are. They're there for a reason. The reason is safety. I know it seems when you're flying in your backyard or anywhere when you're flying a drone that you could see, it doesn't seem like you're in the same universe as airplanes. But I assure you, you are. The airspace requirements are there for anything operating in the national airspace. That's how we keep ourselves safe.

Dominique Gebru:
To go back to your car and driver's license metaphor, it sounds like doing some flight planning beforehand is kind of like using your GPS to figure out where the roads are and where the roads are closed.

Danielle Corbett:
Absolutely, yes. Where the traffic is, if there's an area of high traffic, you don't want to go that way. If there's an area of high traffic, you may not be able to fly. To that end, there is something, this is getting a little bit more nuanced, but something called "temporary flight restrictions" that will pop up. Today, I might be okay to fly here in my backyard, but tomorrow because I live near a stadium, I may not be able to because there's a big game going on or the president is in town, so it's really important that you check it each time that you fly.

Dominique Gebru:
Got it. Great to know. Thanks, Danielle. We've talked a lot about what I can do as a future drone pilot. Are there any things that I shouldn't do? If it's raining, can I fly my drone then?

Danielle Corbett:
Well, there may be some limitations to your particular drone? I think the main things are pretty commonsensical. You don't want to harm yourself or anyone else. Be a good neighbor. If it's raining and even if your drone is capable of flying in the rain, if you're unable to see it because it's raining so hard, you're unable to not hit your neighbor's house, per se, so that might not be a good idea. You want to stay out of the way of congestion, so that would apply to you don't want to fly over a stadium full of people. You don't want to fly over people running in a marathon.

Danielle Corbett:
One of the biggest things is that you don't want to fly in the area of emergency response. This is an area where a lot of people want to take out their drone and assess damage or check out a wildfire. They have good intentions and they're using the drones for good, but they're inadvertently getting in the way of emergency response and sometimes that response has to be halted, so there are some real-life consequences for doing something like that. It's worse than rubbernecking, but we know that rubbernecking can cause collateral accidents because you're not looking and it causes traffic and traffic causes accidents. It's not really dissimilar to that. There's a lot of things going on. There's a lot of variables in an emergency situation and it's best to just let the professionals do their job and then go fly your drone when things have calmed down. I'd say mostly the skies are open, just use common sense. Stay out of the way of other aircraft. Don't harm yourself, don't harm anyone else. Don't hit stuff, basically, and be a good neighbor.

Dominique Gebru:
Awesome. That's really great advice. If listeners want to learn a little bit more about drones flying for good or about wildfires and how aviation is used in wildfire response, we actually have two episodes about those very same topics, so you can go back in our archive and listen to this. Danielle, is there anything else that you'd like to share with our listeners before we go? I think I told you this when we met a few weeks ago, but this was actually a topic requested by our audience on social media, so folks are really excited about this.

Danielle Corbett:
That's wonderful. I love talking to people, so if we need to do a follow-up, I'd be happy to do, get into more details. I just think it's really important for people to know that the rules are not meant to be burdensome, that we at the FAA love aviation, that's why we're here. We are trying to promote this industry and let it grow in a way that is efficient and productive. It's hard to build a brand new safety culture, or I like the word that you used earlier, which was community of practice, which is basically getting the drone community into the mindset of this being a serious tool and an aircraft, which it technically is rather than simply a toy. As we all kind of get on the same page with how we're going to operate collectively as a community, I think we will see this industry really take off and the UAS tool being more accessible to more people for more great things.

Dominique Gebru:
That's such a helpful message. I really appreciate that. Thanks so much, Danielle.

Danielle Corbett:
Thank you for having me.

Allen Kenitzer:
Wow. That was great. Do you really think you're going to go out and become a drone pilot?

Dominique Gebru:
Yeah, Allen. I mean, Danielle was really helpful. She definitely made me feel comfortable asking what I felt like were basic questions. For any other drone pilots or soon-to-be drone pilots out there, you can contact the team at the UAS Support Center by calling (804) FLY-MYUA. One more thing before we close today: The FAA recently implemented two new drone rules, remote identification, or remote ID, and operations over people. I hear that drone pilots have eagerly awaited these rules for a while, so I hope this is exciting news for you. These new rules have provisions for how drone pilots flying under the small UAS rule, AKA Part 107 can operate at night. Before you fly, be sure to read through what this means for you. We'll link the authorization page in this week's show notes, but you can also search Part 107 airspace authorizations on faa.gov.

Allen Kenitzer:
The Air Up There is a podcast from the Federal Aviation Administration. If you liked this episode, be sure to subscribe and share it with someone else. You're going to find the FAA on social media, too. We're @FAA on Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn, and @FAAnews on Twitter and YouTube.

Dominique Gebru:
Thanks for listening and fly safe.