In recent months, police in the Washington D.C. area have investigated numerous instances of illegal drone flights. Many of these occurred within very sensitive or secure location within the D.C. Metro area. Each of these drone flights was unauthorized, including a drone spotted in close proximity to FedEX Field where the Washington Redskins play. Stadium staffers observed a drone flying outside the stadium right before kickoff between the Redskins and the Seattle Seahawks.
Another illegal drone incident occurred on the Capitol Grounds and was investigated by the U.S. Capitol Police. An individual was spotted flying a drone near the Capitol and was detained briefly. Another drone incident occurred at D.C.’s Freedom Plaza where U.S. Park Police detained a man pulled from a tree near the plaza. Both police and FAA reports indicated the drone had crashed into the tree and the man had climbed the tree to retrieve the craft.
Other recent incidents include close calls with drones near Baltimore-Washington International Airport, Reagan National Airport, and Dulles International Airport. Late last summer an aircraft pilot reported a drone passing within 400 feet of his private aircraft just outside Reagan National. Earlier in the summer, airline pilots reported a drone flying within 100 feet of a United Airlines flight, again just outside airport grounds.
While the FAA is working energetically to control these drone aircraft, it is challenging considering how fast drone popularity has grown. Most illegal drone instances do not seem to have any dangerous or malicious intent. An incident where a Russian native was operating a drone near the Lincoln Memorial found that the operator was not familiar with the FAA rules which ban drone flights inside the city limits of Washington D.C.
There are those outside the FAA who believe there is no need for so many new restrictions on drone operations. These individuals believe flying drones on private property should not be controlled by the FAA as long as they do not fly near aircraft or towers.
As part of this trend of flying drones on private property, real estate agents are starting to use drones to film aerial tours and views of homes, commercial properties, and land for sale. The FAA is not happy with this new drone use, saying flying drones for commercial purposes is against FAA regulations.
The agriculture, journalism, and filmmaking industries have used drones for many years and often push the legal limits. Realtors are the latest businesses to join the ranks of drone operators using drones to enhance their capacity. For many years, real estate agents have used images, including satellite images to improve their online listings. Using drones is a new tool in their toolbox and allows realtors to film different views of their available properties.
Most drone operators welcome the FAA’s attempts to address the privacy and safety concerns. There are still questions to be answered, including whether or not operators should be licensed or even trained and where drones can be legally flown. Will regulations be required to prevent someone from using a drone to film in someone’s backyard or their window? These are important factors which will have to be decided soon.