What You Should Know Before You Test The Holiday's 'Flyest' Gift | St. Louis Public Radio

What You Should Know Before You Test The Holiday's 'Flyest' Gift

Dec 12, 2015
Originally published on December 14, 2015 3:19 pm

The Manchester, N.H., regional airport put out a special holiday message this year. And no, it wasn't about trying to bring liquids on board or keeping watch for Santa Claus on radar.

It's meant for people who will get drones this holiday season. "Aircraft operating within a five-mile radius of the airport must contact the airport communications center," they wrote.

And that's not all you need to know. Wired's Tim Moynihan has a few more guidelines that may save new drone owners a Christmas morning phone call to the FAA.


Interview Highlights

On the most important rules before firing up your drone

Surprisingly there aren't many regulations for consumer drones. There are some important rules that you have to stick to.

  • You can't fly within five miles of an airport without special permission.
  • You're not allowed to fly in heavily populated areas or over sports stadiums.
  • You can only fly at altitudes of 400 feet or less.
  • And you can't fly in D.C., because someone crashed a drone on the White House lawn.

On the airport proximity restriction

I think the regulations are going to change soon. Basically the existing regulations have to do with model airplanes, they sort of date back to the early 1980s.

On whether it's a popular gift this year

The consumer technology association says that nearly half a million drones are going to be sold over the holidays. And I think that most of those are on the toy end of the spectrum – they're safe to fly indoors and they have really low-resolution cameras on them.

This is a big year for the technology. Obviously they're in the news, people are really excited about them. There are a few major players on the consumer front that are making sort of these smaller drones for personal use. But I don't think those are going to be a nuisance in the skies. I think what's happening on a larger scale is that there's sort of these commercial drones. Of course, Amazon has been rumored to be making drones for deliveries. And there are a lot of things that need to happen in order for that to become a reality. Obviously, it becomes like shipping lanes in the sky and I think, you know, there's a lot of regulation and planning that needs to come out of that. ...

It's one of those things where, if you're interested in photography and videography, or if you just like remote control cars or remote control planes, that's really the draw for consumers at this point. I wouldn't say it's a mainstream thing. I would say it's a big year for it, but moving forward, it's sort of up in the air as to what the potential use cases are for a consumer.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The Manchester, N.H., regional airport put out a special holiday message. It wasn't about not trying to bring liquids onboard or keeping watch for Santa Claus on radar. This was a message meant for people who will get drones this holiday season. Aircraft operating within a five-mile radius of the airport must contact the airport communications center, they wrote. But will any new drone owner bother to phone the FAA on Christmas morning? Tim Moynihan is a writer at Wired. He's put together a drone gift guide. Mr. Moynihan, thanks for being with us.

TIM MOYNIHAN: Oh, thanks for having me.

SIMON: What's the most important thing you have to do before you fire up the old Christmas drone?

MOYNIHAN: Well, surprisingly there really aren't many regulations for consumer drones. There are some important rules that you have to stick to. You can't fly within five miles of an airport without special permission. You're not allowed to fly in heavily populated areas or over sports stadiums. You can only fight at altitudes of 400 feet or less. And you can't fly in D.C. because someone crashed a drone on the White House lawn, so...

SIMON: So all of D.C. is out.

MOYNIHAN: All of D.C. is out, yes.

SIMON: You know, I understand, or at least I saw on "Law & Order" years ago, that ignorance of the law is no defense. But I'd venture to say a lot of people are a little foggy on exactly how far they are from the airport.

MOYNIHAN: Right, well, much of Manhattan is. Much of, you know, Queens and Manhattan is sort of in the range of LaGuardia. And I think that the regulations are going to change soon. Basically the existing regulations have to do with model airplanes. They sort of date back to the 19 - the early 1980s.

SIMON: Any idea how they're selling this holiday season?

MOYNIHAN: Well, the Consumer Technology Association says that nearly half a million drones are going to be sold over the holidays. And I think most of those are sort of on the toy end of the spectrum, so they're safe to fly indoors and they have really low-resolution cameras on them.

SIMON: But half a million, I mean, it suggests in two or three years the skies will be crawling with drones.

MOYNIHAN: This is a big year for the technology. Obviously they're in the news. People are really excited about them. There are a few major players on the consumer front that are making these sort of smaller drones for personal use. But I don't think those are the ones that are, you know, going to be a nuisance in the skies. I think what's happening on a larger scale is that there are sort of these commercial drones. Of course, Amazon has been rumored to be making drones for deliveries. And there are a lot of things that need to happen in order for that to become a reality. Obviously, it becomes, like, shipping lanes in the sky. And I think, you know, there's a lot of regulation and planning that needs to come out of that.

SIMON: I've wondered if soon there - somebody's going to invent a pirate drone that will intercept the Amazon delivery drone.

MOYNIHAN: (Laughter) Right and sort of steal your deliveries.

SIMON: Yes, exactly, you know.

MOYNIHAN: (Laughter) Well, what I'm really waiting for is for, you know, pizza companies to sort of invent a...

SIMON: Yeah, exactly. The pirate drone...

MOYNIHAN: Yeah.

SIMON: ...That'll say...

MOYNIHAN: Steal your pizza.

SIMON: ...All right, hey, bucko, your pepperoni or your gas or something.

MOYNIHAN: Right.

SIMON: Are you getting a drone or buying one for someone this year, may we ask?

MOYNIHAN: I've played around with a few of them, and they've been on the toy end of the spectrum. But, you know, it's one of the things where, you know, if you're interested in photography and videography or if you just like, you know, remote control cars or remote control planes, that's really the draw for the consumer at this point. I don't think it's, you know, I don't - I wouldn't say it's, like, a mainstream thing. I'd say this is a big year for it. But, you know, moving forward, it's sort of up in the air as to what the potential use cases are for a consumer.

SIMON: You said moving forward, didn't you?

MOYNIHAN: I sure did.

(LAUGHTER)

MOYNIHAN: I'm sorry for droning on and on about this.

SIMON: Oh, oh.

MOYNIHAN: Oh.

SIMON: Tim Moynihan of Wired, thank you very much for bringing such a fresh insight (laughter) to the subject of drones.

MOYNIHAN: (Laughter) Thank you.

SIMON: Thanks very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.