The Ohio State Engineering C2 Research will Help Columbus, Ohio Businesses Soar into Using UAS
March 29, 2016
Drone use for Columbus businesses to soar after FAA releases commercial-friendly rules.
Written By Julie France
Pending FAA regulations for commercial use of drones leave businesses waiting with drones on the ground, ready to start checking on insurance claims, saving lives and entertaining the eye.
Michael Walker, owner of Iconic Media, a video production company in Pataskala, has included free drone services in customers' video packages for two and half years, weather and location permitting. He has shot approximately 45 weddings using drones in addition to ground videography, putting a $1,000 DJI Phantom 2 to good use.
"It's a big selling point for the grooms and a lot of people will contact us specifically because they know that we do aerial videography," says Walker.
Iconic Media intends to continue free drone services for weddings even after Part 107 is in place—though Walker suspects he will start charging corporate clients for drone services after proposed changes are implemented.
Milton Sutton, Jr., senior associate at Frost Brown Todd's Columbus office, claims that if drone services aren't paid for, they most likely would not be considered commercial by the FAA.On the other hand, James Mackler, a Nashville-based attorney at Frost Brown Todd who frequents the Columbus office, contends that any benefit to the client, unpaid or not, would be considered commercial use.
For industries such as roofing, realty and agriculture, commercial use appears to be even more ambiguous considering drone use may not directly benefit a client. Brian Davis started using a drone a year ago for his company, Davis Roofing and Restoration. The tool comes in handy for homes that are large or have steep roofs—about 50 percent of the homes Davis works on. Although Davis has registered his drone for hobby use, he does not have a Section 333 exemption.
"I wasn't aware that I had to have an actual pilot's license. I think that's kind of extreme ... it sounds very extreme actually," says Davis.
Extreme or not, getting a pilot's license involves a minimum of 40 hours of flight time and costs range anywhere from $7,000 to $10,000.
Meyer agrees that a pilot's license is a stretch since drones are not manned vehicles, but notes that's exactly why the FAA is in the midst of changes.
Photo by Tim Johnson
Meanwhile, farmers are using drones for ground penetration to inform agricultural decisions.
"You can fly planes or use spacecraft using radar to look through trees to see what the state of the ground is under the tree. You can penetrate into the ground and get information about water under the surface," says David Williams, dean of the College of Engineering at the Ohio State University.
Using drones saves farmers from sending a large check to NASA. "(Ground penetration) really started with satellite observations of the earth, but satellites are expensive," says Williams. "Now you can do it just in your own fields rather than paying for a NASA download from it."
The Hobby Lobby
Part 107 isn't just about sky-high business opportunities; it's about reversing what some say is backwards treatment of hobbyists versus businesspersons. Allowed to fly model airplanes for decades, hobbyists claim that a heightened sophistication of model aircraft should not infringe on their hobby.
"In many states across the country, (states have) attempted to put laws in the books that are more restrictive on these devices and this hobby lobby that exists is extremely powerful. (The hobbyists' lobby has) pretty much pushed back very successfully all across the country against (the states), so they have an extremely powerful lobby," says Sutton.
Despite the power of the lobby, hobbyists must follow basic guidelines such as not flying higher than 400 feet, not flying within five nautical miles of an airport and giving way to all manned vehicles—though these guidelines are often violated.
"If you look at some of this crazy stuff people are putting on YouTube, (they are) just idiots that have these things that are flying them over traffic on freeways, over fires preventing copters from getting to the hospital … just all this crazy stuff, I don't know how you control that," says Meyer.
For those reasons, Meyer considers the fact that hobbyists are allowed to fly at the moment while companies are not an odd reversal, noting that companies would likely have a stronger sense of responsibility than hobbyists using drones. And responsibility is key in what Meyer calls the "Wild West."
Law of Land and Air
Crowding the sky after Part 107's release is a safety and legal concern. The law of the land does not necessarily translate to the law of the air.
"Most states have laws in the books that protect privacy and property such as anti-surveillance, trespassing and reckless endangerment laws, for instance, that can be used if someone does act recklessly," says Sutton. "If they were flying a drone right outside of your window, for instance, at home, one of these laws could be used and there is an expectation of privacy for that. But, there's a lot out there … that is really free and open and needs to be more heavily defined."
And because drone laws are up in the air, cases could be made for drone users and those who claim their property and privacy have been violated.
"If I was defending someone flying their drone outside of someone's window, my defense is going to be that that aircraft is in what the FAA defined as federal, navigable airspace and that there is no state jurisdiction to prosecute that crime," says Mackler.
Private property is typically not marked as a no-fly zone on the FAA's app, B4UFly, which can be downloaded to see air restrictions before hobbyist or commercial drone flights. What will show up under no-fly zones are airspaces within a five-mile nautical radius of airports and sensitive sites such as high-security government buildings.
Though there is not a protocol for contacting the owners of land an operator flies over, some businesses prefer to be safe than sorry.
"I really try … and get permission and check, wherever I can, to make sure that people know what's going on—and I've been in touch with Robert Strausbaugh, the commander of the Columbus (police) precinct Downtown, when I debate flying Downtown," says Meyer.
Though drones are a strategic safety measure in industries such as realty, roofing, insurance and firefighting, they pose danger to spectators above and below.
"We look at some of the worst-case scenarios (like) what happens to a jet engine if a drone's ingested into the engine, and is the design of the jet engine such that while it might close the engine down, it doesn't cause the plane to crash—which is the ultimate worry," says Williams.
While Ohio State's ASSURE team is testing jet engine ingestion of drones computationally, they are capable of testing such instances under controlled conditions with an actual jet engine. Funding for such costly testing is undetermined.
Ohio State's ASSURE program will use drones to monitor Lake Erie's algal bloom, which last year the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration called potentially the largest and most devastating rapid increase in algae in recent history.
For Herron of Station 12, final drone plans rest on conditions. A fire site poses threats to drones such as melting or obstructed camera vision from smoke. But one obstacle Columbus Fire won't have to consider in research is interference with manned aircraft. Although the Section 333 exemption states that all drones must remain clear of and give way to all manned aircraft, the FAA has informed Columbus Fire that manned aircraft would give way to the department's firefighting drone because of its lifesaving capabilities.
On the Horizon
Observers say the passing of laws on unmanned aircraft is just about to begin.
"We recently filed a case in the western district of Kentucky on behalf of … a hobbyist (who) was flying and a neighbor shot (his drown) down with a shotgun," says Mackler. "That's a case that made its way into the federal courts now because we're asking the federal court judge to define the boundaries of federal airspace versus private property for the purposes of trespass and invasion of privacy."
As definitions are confirmed, the Wild West of drones will become a little less wild. "It is the first case in the federal courts addressing the interaction of private property rights, personal privacy and the right to navigate federal airspace and unmanned aircraft," says Mackler.
Sutton and Mackler agree the FAA's next concern after releasing Part 107 will be microdrones.
"The FAA has already announced the creation of a taskforce to create rules for microUAS—and a microUAS can be under 4.4 pounds," says Mackler. "If that's coming, that will be a whole new rulemaking process that will probably have a little bit less restriction than the current class (of small UAS, ranging from 0.55 to 55 pounds)."
Regardless of what comes next, doors are opening for business—literally. Seeing the interest in drones filming wedding and corporate video, Walker will open another business, The Sleek Geeks. The Sleek Geeks will retail drones and offer drone repair on East Main Street in Reynoldsburg. Planning to welcome customers by early April, Walker's store couldn't come at a better time with Part 107 ready to breach.
"I think there's a whole bunch of opportunities to use these machines in ways we've never even thought of," says Williams.
"Any change (in) technology does change the job market, only we never quite know what kind of jobs it will take over, but in turn, it brings different jobs," Williams adds. "So, my suspicion is it won't stop Amazon deliveries by UPS. My suspicion is it won't put wedding photographers out of business. It will add to what these various companies can provide to the consumer."
Julie France is editorial assistant.
Disclaimer: Accompanying this article is a photo illustration of The City of Columbus Division of Fire's future drone use featuring firefighter Aaron Herron. The Division of Fire is not using drones at this time. The drone pictured was lent by Michael Walker, owner of Iconic Media, and may not be the exact model of drone that the Division of Fire will operate once drone use is implemented.