Flying Drones Over Private Property And Other Questions

I was recently reading a post on the jmpeltier.com blog post and came across this question recently posted by Serhii Havrylenko.
Serhii asked, “Please take a look at my video and please let me know, is this flight allowed? How can you be sure your drone is not over some houses? Or it did not record something in a yard that an owner does not want public? How can we know there were no people under trees? How can we be sure we are not flying drones over private property areas. Even if you fly above your personal property, the drone will take photos of the surrounding area and other people’s private property.”

Should I Fly Drones Over Private Property

I am no lawyer, so this is just my opinion, however as a Part 107 pilot who is giving my opinion, I would say the flight was probably acceptable. I get your frustration, but regarding where you can fly is not that hard, and I hope this helps you make form your own opinions. To me, beyond the law, there is some common sense required. After all, none of us wants to hurt anyone or damage property.

Research The Area Before You Fly Your Drone

For starters, you should research the area you intend to fly. Check online for any regulations for the area you want to fly.
As an example, public parks will often have restrictions on flying drones within the park. So, for starters, if you plan to operate a drone within a park, you need to know if the park has restrictions on drones, RC, or motorized vehicles? If they have limitations, you should not take off or land within the park, but this is where things get interesting.
Some people think that flying a drone over a park with restrictions is ok if you are not physically in the park yourself. In other words, let’s say you took off from your driveway and flew directly over the park, even hovering over the park.
I view this as a “risk versus reward” based issue to me. I ask myself, is it worth it, what do I need footage for and can I get similar footage elsewhere? I think people will stretch these laws, and they probably have some ground to stand on. It all gets down to this question- do the local parks have the right to restrict aircraft from using that airspace.
In most cases, local and even state parks have no automatic geo-fence or warning that you cannot fly there. If the area is federally unrestricted, you can probably get clearance to operate in the airspace. The question we have then is, what can anyone do if you took off from outside of the park? People doing this do so under the argument that they are technically not operating the drone in the park. They defend this practice based on the definition or difference between the drone and any other aircraft that passes or hovers over the park. Planes, jets, and helicopters pass over parks every day after all.
The answer to this question is very complicated, and it is that complication that leads to incorrect action by law enforcement, parks staff, and others. I feel if you are going to do this, someone could confront you, and you should prepare yourself for that ahead of time.
Regardless of whether what you are doing is allowed by law, you may still get your drone seized. Also, you may be reported to the FAA, ticketed, and (while unlikely) you could even be arrested for any number of reasons including disturbing the peace. The court may throw out the case, or they may proceed with charges, forcing you to spend thousands of dollars defending yourself. Once again, I ask, “is it worth it?”

Flying a Drone Over Houses or Neighborhoods

To me, the idea of not operating drone over private property is about intent, respect, and limitations. If you are flying up high, you are likely safe, in my opinion. My general rule is flying above 75′ over a property that can probably be defended as there is some precedent on where private property ends vertically. Think of planes and helicopters; they can fly over houses and private property, so what is the difference? My thinking is that if you are flying drones over private property for the purpose of filming a general area, as Serhii did in his video, you are probably safe. I believe this to even truer if you are far enough up where you can’t see in windows. I think it would be hard to prove any attempt to trespass, and you are not invading anyone’s privacy. However, to be clear, if you intentionally fly over private property to film the property as your primary focus, that is different.

Flying a Drone Over a Businesses Property

Business private property can create interesting issues for various reasons. As an example, I recently visited a local ice castle to get some footage. The ice castle is on private property with signs indicating it as a no-fly zone for drones. To get the footage I needed, I flew around the perimeter and shot as much footage as I could from surrounding public streets. I was able to do this without flying directly over the property. However, an employee of the castle approached me with some vigor, telling me I was not allowed to fly over their property. I informed him that I was operating the drone over public property, not theirs, and then presented my Part 107 license to him. I told him I was cleared by LAANC to fly there, I am a licensed pilot, and I planned to only operate on and over public property. He told me he understood and that he just wanted to make sure I did not fly over their property to help ensure the safety of their guests, which I said I support 100%.

LAANC FAA Drone Flight Clearance Application

I have mentioned LAANC a few times, and if you are unclear on what it means, let me explain. LAANC is an application you can load on your phone, tablet, or PC that will allow you to obtain clearance from the FAA to operate within any given airspace. It is easy to do, and I always check with the LAANC before I fly. I will make sure I read all of the warnings and information LAANC provided about the area and will proceed accordingly.
The app will automatically detect your immediate area, allowing you to choose that area or another area for a future flight plan. Once you identify the operating area, the app asks you to determine the operating radius on the map. Once you enter your operating boundary radius, there will be a few basic yes/no questions. Once you are done entering all the required information, hit submit to request approval for your flight plan. The application may come back as having no restrictions. However, your flight plan may not get authorized, or you may be subject to other restrictions.
As an example, I was recently operating in a downtown metro area close to an airport. The LAANC app quickly returned approval, provided I flew at or below 100′ vertically from the ground. I was able to conduct my flight without any issue.

Flying a Drone Over People and Crowds

Flying over people is also tricky. If you are flying over a crowd, then you are breaking the law. However, let’s say you were downtown flying around a high-rise building. You may not always be able to ensure no one is never going to be directly under your drone.
How I handle this issue is relatively simple. If I am going to be on the job filming a 50 story building, I will pick days and times of the day that foot traffic is going to be slow. My goal is to limit the odds of having an incident of a direct flyover by reducing the chance of it happening. Secondly, have a spotter that can keep the area below the drone clear and can easily communicate with you regarding traffic below. If someone is below, I will halt my flight until they are clear.
If people may incidentally move through the area, you should always be aware and maintain a flight path that would leave no chance for the drone to hit a person if a crash occurs. I do my best to never fly over anyone because it is the law, I do not want to hurt anyone, and it is usually not that big of an issue.
New rules are in the works that may change this. The FAA is looking at requiring parachutes to be attached to drones flying over people.

The Steps I Take Before Each Flight

1. Research where you will fly beforehand to ensure you are not breaking local, state, or other laws.
2. Get LAANC clearance, read all NOTAMS and warnings, and activate your flight.
3. Be aware of private property and create a plan to minimize any impact of personal privacy.
4. Fly within line of sight.
5. Stay away from active scenes with police, fire, or ambulance involved.
6. Do not fly and especially do not hover, intentional or not, directly over people.
7. If you are going to cross a road, wait for a clearing like you would if you were crossing the street.

Why is a Marketing Company Writing About Drones?

As an internet marketing company, we have found that capturing images and drone footage have become crucial for our local clients. Before and after comparisons of projects our clients have done, showing their place of business, you name it. Being a licensed operator helps set Searchorb Marketing apart from many other marketing companies. We have traveled across the US to capture images and videos for our clients.