Drone/UAV flying: Is it legal? Is it safe?

Drone/UAV flying: Is it legal? Is it safe?

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PHOENIX (KSAZ) - Drones just aren't for the U.S. Air Force, the Border Patrol, or the CIA anymore. The technology is now available for everyone.

Most hobby stores sell them starting for around $500 up through a few thousand dollars.

But is it safe or legal for just anyone to buy a drone and just start flying it with no instruction or training?

"Here you can take a course, you can earn a degree, or you can learn to fly a UAV," said Dr. Jerry Lemieux.

Retired USAF Col. Jerry Lemieux runs the Unmanned Vehicle University in Phoenix.

"You can go through our pilot training program and become a UAV pilot," he said.

And the demand for UAV and drone training has never been higher.

"We have people who spend up to $10,000 on a small UAV, and then they call us and say "I am afraid to fly it because I am afraid I am going to crash it," said Lemieux.

And the rules? Earlier this year the FAA issued its first regulations for people flying drones that weigh under 55 pounds.

"They are going to have to be five miles from an airport and below 400 feet, those are the basic parameters for flying a UAV," he said.

New drone flyers can also join clubs like the Phoenix Area Drone Users Group Network.

"The rules of the road that these different groups have put out there are really important to observe and follow," said Christopher Hilton, who runs the group.

Private clubs have been flying radio controlled aircraft for 30 years. But now with technology allowing just about anyone to fly, they are also worried about safety.

"Nothing is going to slow down the growth of this industry, which they estimate to be a multi-billion dollar one, than having careless or reckless flyers, and none of us want that," said Hilton.

You only have to search YouTube for plenty of bad examples. They are some of the most watched videos online. Someone foolish enough flew a UAV over a group of celebrating hockey fans. It wasn't long before it was brought down.

There's no training, no license required to fly a UAV or drone. All you do is slide in the battery, add a camera, and you're ready to shoot.

One of the most popular drones, a DJI Phantom, is great for beginners, but it never hurts to get some lessons first. At Hobby Action in Tempe, they specialize in drones. Some come right out of the box with an on-board camera included. Others are custom models that take time to design, build, and fly.

Outside the store, the employees took a $3,000 model for a spin. "I've bee flying for a year and a half now," said the clerk.

Hovering and maneuvering above a Tempe parking lot is a fully equipped UAV drone. But is it legal?

"When it comes to the private use, the hobby use of these things, there are not really a good set of laws relating to that in Arizona," said James Arrowood.

James Arrowood is a Phoenix attorney who specializes in drone law. He spends a lot of time advising clients who want to make money flying their drones.

"The problem is that even some of the existing guidelines the FAA have issued have been challenged by people now that was in a commercial context," said Arrowood.

Right now the FAA doesn't allow anyone using a drone to record video and use that video for profit.

Despite that, there are other issues too. "You have insurance issues, what happens if a drone flies into a building, and there's a fire that results.

And reckless flying could result in other problems, especially if you hurt someone.

"Remember even if you didn't commit a criminal act, if you damage someone's property, or you hurt someone, you are likely to get a phone call or a letter from someone like me. You're not going to enjoy that," he said.

Congress gave the FAA until September of 2015 to come up with rules concerning the commercial use of small drones. But according to a recent federal audit the agency is nowhere near meeting that deadline.
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