Print 26 comment(s) - last by Zak.. on May 7 at 11:21 AM

Both civilian drones and commercial drones are disallowed, appeal seems futile for now

Yosemite National Park has a friendly message to drone enthusiasts hoping to fly their drones in the park -- don't.  The park staff published an advisory on May 2, reminding visitors that drone use is in violation of National Park policy and may result in stiff fines.
I. Private Drone Use in Most of the Country -- Yup
While drones like Parrot SA's (EPA:PARRO) AR Drone or Da-Jiang ("Great Territory") Innovations (DJI) Science and Technology Co., Ltd.'s Phantom quadcopter are growing more affordable and widespread for enthusiast uses -- especially aerial filming -- the legality of such civilian fliers remains a serious question.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has the power to regulate the U.S. airspace, as granted by Congress.  A 2012 law (The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2012) orders that the FAA safely integrate commercial drones and enthusiast drones into the civilian airspace by 2015, but it currently has failed to develop that policy and looks unlikely to meet that deadline.  In the meantime it's tried to urge businesses not to use drones and for civilians to limit their use.  In guidelines, it writes:
Do I need to get approval from the FAA to fly a model aircraft for recreation?
No. FAA guidance does not address size of the model aircraft. FAA guidance says that model aircraft flights should be kept below 400 feet above ground level (AGL), should be flown a sufficient distance from populated areas and full-scale aircraft, and are not for business purposes. 

Parrot AR 2.0
A federal ALJ recently ruled that use of drones, like this Parrot AR 2.0 quadcopter is legal for both civilians and commercial use. [Image Source: Parrot/RobotShop]

The last sentence in the guideline, however, may well be unlawful.  The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) in March of this year issued an FAA fine for a commercial drone user who defined the FAA's ban.  The administrative law judge (ALJ) ruled that the FAA could not discriminate against drones versus other forms of model aircraft.
For companies like, Inc. (AMZNor Google Inc. (GOOG) looking to deploy drones to either deliver products or internet service to consumers, the fight to develop a fair regulatory framework has just begun.  But for civilians, the FAA's guidelines appear to now acknowledge that use below 400 feet is okay.
II. Private Drone Use in National Parks -- Nope
An exception though is the U.S. National Park System.  In a post on its public homepage, Yosemite National Park's staff -- employees of the U.S. National Parks Service (NPS) -- write:

Yosemite National Park advises visitors that the use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (Drones) are prohibited within park boundaries due to regulations outlined in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). Specifically, the use of drones within the park boundaries is illegal under all circumstances. Thirty Six CFR 2.17(a)(3) states, “delivering or retrieving a person or object by parachute, helicopter, or other airborne means, except in emergencies involving public safety or serious property loss, or pursuant to the terms and conditions of a permit” is illegal. This applies to drones of all shapes and sizes.

The park has experienced an increase in visitors using drones within park boundaries over the last few years. Drones have been witnessed filming climbers ascending climbing routes, filming views above tree-tops, and filming aerial footage of the park. Drones can be extremely noisy, and can impact the natural soundscape. Drones can also impact the wilderness experience for other visitors creating an environment that is not conducive to wilderness travel. The use of drones also interferes with emergency rescue operations and can cause confusion and distraction for rescue personnel and other parties involved in the rescue operation. Additionally, drones can have negative impacts on wildlife nearby the area of use, especially sensitive nesting peregrine falcons on cliff walls.

Visitors traveling to the park should be aware that the use of drones is prohibited while visiting the park and should not be utilized at any time. 

Based on the comments, it appears that 36 C.F.R. 2.17 applies not just to Yosemite, but also to all U.S. National Parks.
For those wondering about a court challenge don't get your hopes up.  That same provision has been successfully applied in federal court to prohibit base jumping (with a parachute) and has been upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in 2000.  Considering that the Ninth Circuit sets precedent for California -- the home state of Yosemite -- it appears drone enthusiasts have little hope of winning a fight against the park policy in federal court.  Drone enthusiasts' best bet would be to test the waters in national parks in another Federal Circuit, but be prepared for a long and costly fight, which may well end in disappointment.
The 36 C.F.R., which outlines the U.S. National Park rules and regulations, traces its power to The National Park Service Organic Act signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson in 1916.  It is accompanied by 16 U.S.C. § 1, the base provision of that 1916 Congressional law.
Yosemite is one of the most beloved and used U.S. National Parks, seeing 3.7 million visitors per year in recent years.  It is known for its spectacular granite cliffs, including the Half Dome, and for its groves of Giant Sequoia trees.

Yosemite in the winter
Yosemite National Park is seen here in the winter months. [Image Source: Mary Lundin/My Shot]

While Yosemite was a "state park" until the creation of the U.S. National Park System in 1916, it was actually the first federally protected piece of wilderness.  The first law that protected it was the Yosemite Grant Act, passed by Congress and signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln in June 1864, just ten months before the President was assasinated.

Source: National Park Service [advisory]

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they couldn't wait 2 months
By BillyBatson on 5/5/2014 6:22:04 PM , Rating: 3
NOOOOOO HAHAHAHAHA!!!! I am actually going to be backpacking the entire John Muir Trail in Yosemite for 21 days third week of this July. My 2 friends and I were seriously considering taking a drone that can carry our GoPro camera with us to capture some great aerial views while we are out there. We weren't 100% on the idea mainly because of space/weight but now those dreams are dashed. Being out there for 21 days we plan to capture a lot of video and make sort of a documentary style film about our trip and drone footage would have really brought up our production value =D

RE: they couldn't wait 2 months
By Jeffk464 on 5/5/2014 7:38:01 PM , Rating: 2
You would still be ok in Nation Forest land, maybe you can ship the drone to yourself for part of the trip. It seems stupid to ban the drones instead of banning flying the drones.

RE: they couldn't wait 2 months
By Reclaimer77 on 5/5/2014 7:55:11 PM , Rating: 4
Can we please stop calling enthusiast radio control aircraft "drones"? Since when the hell did these get called drones?

Unless you can pilot them from hundreds of miles away and fire missiles into some camel jockeys ass with it, it's not a "drone".

The Government is using the public opposition to the use of drones, which IT is responsible for, to now try and classify ALL RC craft as "drones" in order to expand their powers even more over us all.

RE: they couldn't wait 2 months
By Jeffk464 on 5/6/2014 11:59:33 AM , Rating: 2
I agree the line is starting to get murky though. It seems like a big difference between people that just enjoy flying aerobatics on the weekend and spy drones and what not but the hardware is becoming about the same. What's the difference between something like the parrot quadrocopter and something similar the cops will use to check on your marijuana plants, or maybe you have a neighbor busy body that want's to check on all the neighbors?

RE: they couldn't wait 2 months
By BillyBatson on 5/6/2014 12:21:24 PM , Rating: 2
They are going to check on my marijuana plants?! Quick! to amazon for camouflage tarps!

Check on all the neighbors you say? Interesting idea especially once everyone is out laying by their pools this summer ;)

RE: they couldn't wait 2 months
By kattanna on 5/6/2014 12:33:06 PM , Rating: 2
LOL.. there might be 1.. maybe 2, neighbors worth seeing that way

most.. oh heck no

Under 400 feet, sure
By Jeffk464 on 5/5/2014 5:59:25 PM , Rating: 2
I challenge anyone to look at an RC plane and tell me when it is at 400 feet.

RE: Under 400 feet, sure
By retrospooty on 5/5/2014 6:07:59 PM , Rating: 3
"I challenge anyone to look at an RC plane and tell me when it is at 400 feet."

That is like taking a look at rules implemented by the govt. and telling me when it's arbitrary ;)

RE: Under 400 feet, sure
By GTVic on 5/5/2014 6:20:22 PM , Rating: 4
You haven't thought about this from the other perspective. It is just common sense that when you create a rule you have to be specific.

Similar to when you post a 10mph sign on a common driveway, it doesn't mean you are out there with a radar gun looking for people driving 15 mph, what it means is that you want people to drive slow and if they consistently drive way too fast you have the option to punish them on the specifics.

RE: Under 400 feet, sure
By Murloc on 5/6/2014 8:06:06 AM , Rating: 2
actually in my country there's a road with a 12 mph limit (they wanted to close off that small road in the old city to parasitic transit traffic) and they did radar gun controls at first to make sure people respected it (20 km/h is difficult to respect so they also made some money).

RE: Under 400 feet, sure
By spamreader1 on 5/6/2014 9:48:01 AM , Rating: 3
I bet that wears down brakes quick. My truck on level pavement idles faster than that.

By Reclaimer77 on 5/5/14, Rating: 0
RE: Where
By Spuke on 5/5/2014 7:42:59 PM , Rating: 2
I actually don't have an issue with the existence of public lands nor the management of them by the feds. It's one of the few things they do halfway decently (and I mean halfway). Personally, I'd rather have most of the country in a relatively untouched condition. BTW, you CAN build a home (or other structures) in a national park and I mean ON national park land (there is some private land inside most national parks).

RE: Where
By Reclaimer77 on 5/5/14, Rating: 0
RE: Where
By Ammohunt on 5/6/2014 1:44:27 PM , Rating: 1
Spoken like someone that doesn't live in one of the states listed.

RE: Where
By marvdmartian on 5/6/2014 7:35:00 AM , Rating: 2
Add on top of that, their innate ability to interpret their own convoluted laws and regulations, to THEIR advantage, and we have a much bigger problem.

For example, the Code of Federal Regulations quoted here:
Thirty Six CFR 2.17(a)(3) states, “ delivering or retrieving a person or object by parachute, helicopter, or other airborne means, except in emergencies involving public safety or serious property loss, or pursuant to the terms and conditions of a permit” is illegal. This applies to drones of all shapes and sizes.

Notice the words in bold? That tells me that if you're NOT delivering or retrieving a person or object, you're free to fly your drone. The feds, on the other hand, simply smother ALL use of the drones with this regulation, and hope that no one will call them on it.

Could make for some interesting drama, if someone did decide to!

RE: Where
By ammaross on 5/6/2014 10:01:34 AM , Rating: 2
delivering or retrieving a person or object

Well, there goes flying drones with cameras (one of the main uses of these drones).

RE: Where
By marvdmartian on 5/6/2014 1:52:55 PM , Rating: 2
ONLY if it's retrieving said camera! ;)

RE: Where
By Zak on 5/7/2014 11:21:04 AM , Rating: 2
If the Feds didn't have their way there would be no Yosemite, no Yellowstone, no other national parks and preserves. There would be dams and highways, hotels and factories everywhere. To give all land into private hands would be insanity.

What is right and what is wrong?
By Hakuryu on 5/6/2014 12:07:12 AM , Rating: 3
As someone who loves to camp, and often defines that experience by the least bit of human interference : light pollution, sound pollution from cars and trucks... I can foresee a time when you go to a National Park and your beautiful picture is contaminated by hundreds of little drone machines.

But... the ground is highly contaminated now. Mostly by snowmobiles. A law went into effect that banned the highly noisy and pollutant variety (2 stroke vs 4), and it was overturned by Bush. Do a little research and watch how negatively thousands of snowmobiles are to the pristine beauty and to wildlife... shouldn't take you long.

So we can't contaminate images, but it's okay to contaminate the ground and spook wildlife because snowmobiles are big business.

Where do we draw the line? Maybe hundreds enjoyed the winter beauty, while now thousands can as the destroy the beauty they are using snowmobiles to view. Reminds me of modern physics; by viewing it we change it.

By Jeffk464 on 5/6/2014 12:03:16 PM , Rating: 2
Well to a certain extent the national parks have become Disneyland so I guess you need all the rules. If you want the true wilderness experience you have to go to National Forest Land. Instead of Yosemite go to Hetch Hetchy, just as spectacular but no crowds and not developed.

By Grimer21 on 5/5/2014 5:56:54 PM , Rating: 2
That picture of the quadrotor with the skyscrapers behind it makes me dizzy...

RE: Dizzy!
By Jeffk464 on 5/5/2014 6:12:25 PM , Rating: 2
cool photo though

Darn Right
By Jim Kiler on 5/5/2014 9:41:19 PM , Rating: 2
Darn right those drones are banned from Yosemite. No one wants a majestic trip to Yosemite ruined by the noise of a drone or a shot messed up because someone's drone is in it.

define "drone"
By ssobol on 5/6/2014 9:13:44 PM , Rating: 2
There needs to a regulatorarily enforceable definition of "drone" so that everyone knows what exactly the government is restricting. If you mean a remotely piloted airborne device then say it. If you mean any remotely operated object then say that. If a kid is running a RC car around the campground, is that a drone? By some definitions it is (the definition of drone does not automatically mean something that flies). It is difficult to enforce a regulation with a colloquial understanding of a term because that can vary from region to region.

As for ruining someones shot by flying a "drone" (as previously mentioned) there are countless ways one person can ruin another person's shot that does not require any "drones". People were doing it long before "drones" became common.

There was a group in Texas (I think) that used a variety of remotely piloted devices (mostly homebuilt) that were used to find lost campers and hikers. Most of the builders and operators were volunteers. The FAA has issued them a cease and desist order because the FAA says that the use of "drones" for the purpose of finding lost people is prohibited under the "no drones at all" act.

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