The public is not likely to trust drones. Some situations can lead to unpleasant interactions with police officers, such as when you are flying in a dangerous area.
Written from the point of view of one of Unmanned Aerial Operations pilots, this article discusses a scenario when a drone pilot/drone operator may run into trouble conducting his work.
What do you do if you aren’t sure of your rights? A professional drone pilot has a lot of experience flying drones in busy areas. This article will explain how to conduct an air traffic study without having a bad police interaction. If they do get called, how to handle them and how to complete it.
Traffic studies from the air indicate where people are most likely to be around.
Ariel traffic studies are often used to monitor and record traffic patterns at a fixed location, such as a fast-food restaurant. This is done in order to determine when customers come from and what time they arrive.
You may also know the time and whereabouts of school zones or other active areas. If classes are open and closed at the same time, queuing and traffic will increase due to parents picking up their children and dropping them off, school buses entering or leaving, and older students arriving and going on their own. Here is an example of such a study. Also, the product that was given to the client can be viewed below.
Aerial traffic studies can be one of the most straightforward missions that a drone pilot could conduct. The drone is suspended in the air with the camera at a nadir and an oblique perspective. It hovers in one place while recording traffic patterns for a time.
Even so, law enforcement officers and anti-drone enthusiasts can identify the location of the drone and possibly locate the pilot. The new Remote ID laws will make it much easier to find the drone pilot.
Even if your drone flight appears legal to the Federal Aviation Administration, and you may even have separate approvals from the city, sometimes people don’t like the drones flying above their heads. Even police might attempt to stop you if they aren’t aware of what’s going on.
It’s happened to me many times, trust me.
As a drone pilot, you will need to handle police interactions
Aerial traffic studies are not as easy as they seem. Although it is one the most straightforward drone missions, it should not be overlooked that organizing an aerial traffic study can be very involved.
My first ever aerial traffic study, and the biggest project to date, saw the police invade my vehicle and base-of operations, then quiz me about my activities. My activities were not reported to one of the resource officers, as the job sites included all elementary schools in the county. Both the principal and vice principal were contacted by me and the school board. However, the message was not passed on to the school resource officer.
These steps will help you if you are confronted while performing an aerial traffic study.
- Introduce yourself: Smile, and tell the site what you are doing.
- When asked for your ID, show it. If they ask for your ID, it is likely that the officer has reasonable suspicion of you requesting identification. You should be a Part 107 certified pilot if you’re conducting an aerial traffic study. It is a good idea to also bring your Part 107 card.
- Accept all requests, BUT, continue to record.
- Contact the person you are providing service to / the authority at the site. You should have reached them before the mission was completed.
- Don’t be afraid to speak up for yourself. Flying in open airspace at a height that does not violate privacy is not a crime. You should be familiar with the FAA regulations and local laws. Remember that your job is not to argue with officers, but to record traffic. Use professionalism, politeness and information to diffuse the situation
In my case, an officer spoke to me and took a look at my car with my company information, my uniform and my ID. He quickly changed his attitude to one of curiosity and giddy interest.
Realize that most police officers are actually in favor of the use drones and have implemented them in their own departments around the globe.
Remember that although your client may have contacted the necessary people, it is important to double-check and brainstorm with other potential contacts. While it is possible for some situations to not require this much time, such as an aerial traffic study at a college campus, concerned citizens should be aware of any unusual activity near their children.
To deal with concerned citizens and to avoid risks:
Many people won’t know who you are or what you do. Proper attire is important to communicate to the public that you have been certified by the FAA to operate drones commercially. A sign explaining that an aerial traffic investigation is in progress may be a good idea. Even if everything is perfect, concerned citizens can become a distraction and call the police. These tips can help you reduce the chance of it happening.
- Avoid flying above cars. Aerial traffic studies tend to be focused on vehicles on the ground. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you shouldn’t fly directly over them. You should place your drone on a median, sidewalk, or tree so that you can still see the vehicles below. This will reduce the chance of your drone colliding with a vehicle or person on the ground. It may also help a citizen who has spotted your drone.
- You can fly high enough to not be distracting but at least 400 feet above the ground. If the drone is not visible to the citizen, you may be able bypass the interaction with them. You’ll need to keep the drone at a distance of less than 400 feet and be aware of the airspace in which you are flying.
If a citizen or police officer takes an interest in your case or begins investigating it, the best thing to do is to cooperate with the officer and explain what you are doing at the site. Also, make sure that your credentials and client are correct. I was pleasantly surprised that the officer who spoke with me wasn’t too firm and didn’t violate my rights during his investigation. If you tell police officers what you are doing, they will likely take an interest in you and change the dynamic of the situation.