photo: Saam Gabbay
Having a UAV fly over your head in a national park is at best annoying, and in this case was alarming. It’s about the last thing your nervous system wants when you’re trying to enjoy the outdoors. And it’s made me think about my own relationship with UAVs, which I’ve been using for about a year in my work as a photographer.
Besides being an artist, I’m an early adopter. I participated in the FAA’s beta-test program for its flight-logging app, which lets UAV operators know where it’s safe and legal to fly. The app collected flight data to help the FAA prepare legislation and to help devise a way to alert local airports about flights. So far so good. But once the agency released registration requirements for UAVs late last year, and had users go to a sign-up website, things started to get confusing.
The trouble is, the FAA is a national agency, but every city has its own set of laws. In Los Angeles it’s prohibited to fly within 25 feet of a person, or in any L.A. County park. The FAA prohibits flying over people, but doesn’t say how high. Factor in California’s state laws and you end up with a bizarre and unenforceable stew of rules that makes it illegal to create virtually every image I’ve ever photographed. Almost every flight in Los Angeles violates a law in some way.
I hope this is the beginning of a rich dialogue between citizens and the FAA that will lead to a clear list of rules for UAV pilots. This is important, because if there is no dialogue, the pilots may go rogue like other fringe artists. Except that there will be thousands of them.