One of the more hotly debated topics in regards to UAVs or drone operations is the impact of recreational users on the commercial industry. Some see these are two separate and distinct uses where one does not reflect on the other and are completely different issues. The problem however is public perception, either first hand experiences or those reported by the media. In the eyes of many outside the drone community there is no distinction between who or how the device it is being used – a drone is a drone is a drone.
Because of this perception the industry as a whole can be greatly impacted by the actions of a few, be they recreational or commercial users.
When the public sees a drone flying over a crowd at an event they don’t know or care if this is someone flying for fun or being paid. They see a drone and question if what is being done is legal and safe. If an accident does happen the reasons for the flight are not the focus but the fact a drone crashed into someone and caused an injury. The media headline won’t be “Commercial Drone Injures Child” or “Recreational Drone Injures Child” but merely “Drone Injures Child”. When someone is annoyed with a drone flying near their property or at a beach or other public area they don’t wonder if it is recreational or commercial they just see it in a negative light in general.
Many parks and municipalities either already have restrictive drone bylaws or are in the process of creating such policies to address public concern. The more negative stories on drones the more likely for these policies are to be anti-drone as agencies can quickly make knee jerk decisions to address public concerns, be they justified or not.
This can further impact commercial operations with client perception around what can and cannot be done with a drone. A potential client sees a YouTube video and may want a similar flight done for their event, such as flying over a parade route. Legal operators have to explain why such a flight cannot be done which can be confusing to the client. In many cases the education works and an alternative option can be found, but in some cases the client simply goes with another operator that will do the work regardless of the laws. This sometimes may just be their friend with a drone who is not aware or even caring of the regulations and flys “for fun” which just per perpetuates the underlying issue.
Commercial operators are not off the hook in the public perception either, there have been a number of cases of questionable flights by even those holding SFOCs, which can be seen in the extreme cases in Transport Canada fines to certified operators.
And just because something may be legal to do doesn’t mean it is wise to do. There are uses of drones that may be fully allowable legally but we all need to ask ourselves does the risk justify the reward. If something goes wrong how will you personally or your company be impacted and what could the fallout be for the entire industry? We all need to think before we fly and consider safety, perception, and respect the privacy and respect of others and not be “that guy”.
Until the regulations of recreational and commercial use merge the these issues will continue, and even with new regulations there will be ongoing questionable uses of drones. Transport Canada has limited enforcement resources so we cannot expect them to be on every case that comes up and often times local law enforcement is unaware of the regulations around drone use. As an industry we need to keep abreast of such issues and try and make sure the actions of a few don’t taint the entire community & industry. If we witness unsafe drone use then is should be reported. Contacting media when incorrect statements are made, doing community outreach, and simply explaining what we are doing when asked when in the public can all help dispel the myths and worries around drones and their use. If we don’t then the public view of what we do could easily go down the wrong path.
Drone are here to stay and everyone has a right to use them be it for work or for fun but this needs to be done in a safe and respectful manner. Ignoring questionable activity helps no one long term – a drone is a drone is a drone.