Started out with me getting up before sunrise to record some drone footage in Atlantic Highlands Harbor, and for the 2nd time in a week I could not take off. Earlier this week I had been on a real estate assignment, and today once again I not take off because of Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs) at Kennedy, Neward and LaGuardia airport.
What the heck are TFRs, you ask?
TFRs are temporary flight restrictions issued by the FAA, usually to protect VIPs, in this case VIPs traveling into JFK, Newark and LaGuardia airport. I think Obama was in town earlier in the week, and there is a United Nations conference happening this weekend. Just a little surprisng that this is happening so often. Plus, I have the opportunity to shoot a real estate scene this weekend of a really nice home in Monmouth Hills, but it looks like the TFR is on all weekend, so anyone in the 8 mile vicinity of JFK airport will not be able to fly a drone all weekend. (I pity the kid who is getting a brand new drone toy this weekend). Of course these restrictions apply to all private aircraft, so drone operators are not the only ones affected, and there are other reasons I really shouldn’t complain too much.
“Cannot Take Off” Technology
This morning I was attempting to fly my Phantom 4 from DJI. DJI is currently the leading drone manufacturer, and the software used to fly their drone is rather sophisticated in ways I hope to explain on this blog over time… DJI has been working closely with the FAA in order to integrate features that address the growing safety concerns about drones post 9/11, and one of the features involves recognizing these TFR temporary flight restrictions issued by the FAA and actually preventing their drones to be able to take off. Pretty neat, unless you were hoping to fly.
What happens at the edges of a TFR?
Being a software geek and developer, beyond being impacted this morning, it got me thinking about some scenarios that could become problematic. What happens if you take off outside a no fly zone and drift into it while doing a flight? How accurate are the no fly zone borders, can you reliably fly a mile outside of them without fear of being impacted?Because my current understanding is that drifting into a no fly zone during an operation will cause the drone to automatically land on the spot. So if that spot is over water or trees, it will easily lead to the demise of the drone itself! So for this reason I am very hesitant to fly anywhere near a TFR zone.
Drones, policies and perceptions
My personal view is that, as frustrating as occasional TFRs may be from a drone operator perspective, collaboration between drone manufacturers and the FAA are benefitting the industry overall, because otherwise the likely alternative outcomes would be blanket bans and restrictions. Currently the drone industry is still impacted by the negative connotations the technology carries from its military applications. Most people do not realize the myriad ways drones are being used for the greater good of society and businesses, for example to help farmers optimize crops and water usage in developing countries, surveying, search and rescue, solar and power infrastructure development, reducing the cost and speeding up infrastructure inspections for bridges, buildings and other hard to inspect structures.
Lessons for me are simple
I should check for TFRs before getting out of bed before sunrise! Fortunately the FAA makes this relatively easy with their BYF “Before you fly” app for mobile devices. So my pre-flight checklist should really include BYF before getting out of bed. BYGOOB.