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Up, Up and Away! Drone Technology Outpacing Regulations

John Cantie, Senior at Clarence, holds droneA versatile device that has broad appeal from hobbyists to commercial users, drone technology is advancing so quickly, it’s outpacing federal regulations and current understanding of how to implement it in society today.

As the drone technology evolves, it could impact decisions a school district makes about policies, curriculum and equipment purchases.

For schools concerned about safety and drone use over their property, there are no clear-cut guidelines for schools because the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulates drones, not state or local municipalities.

“If there is a new state law or local ordinance (regarding drone use), then we would likely address that through a school policy recommendation, if appropriate,” said Daniel D’Amico, director of Labor Relations Services at Erie 1 BOCES.

The New York State Public High School Athletic Association implemented its own policy by prohibiting the use or possession of drones, for any purpose by any person or entity at all scrimmages, regular season and post season events. This prohibition applies to the area above and upon all spectator areas, fields of play, courts, arenas, stadiums, mats, gymnasiums, pools, practice facilities, parking areas and or other property being utilized for the purpose of the interscholastic activity. If there is a report of drone activity at an athletic event school, section and/or state association officials will, in consultation with the sports officials, suspend the play until such time as the drone is removed from the area and it is safe to proceed.

“It’s an ever-evolving issue that schools will need to watch,” said Janell Hallgren, manager of Erie 1 BOCES Policy Services.

The FAA regulates unmanned aircraft and Part 107 is the main set of rules for flying small drones (less than 55 lbs.) in the United States. You can fly under Part 107 rules for any reason, including for work or business, for fun in your backyard, to teach, or for public safety missions.

“There are aspects of the drone industry that we have just scratched the surface on,” said Thomas Leach, who is in his seventh year teaching the Aviation Technology program at Erie 1 BOCES Harkness Career & Technical Center. In his two-year program, Leach incorporates much of what a traditional pilot would need to know and what the students learn about aircraft systems is relevant for the drone systems unit.

He has several students that are ready to take an exam to become a commercial drone operator. One of those students preparing for the Part 107 exam is John Cantie, a senior at Clarence High School. “With the drones, there are so many ways to customize them, so many different jobs you can do with them,” said Cantie, pictured holding a drone with First View goggles. “It’s an awesome hobby and I personally like to take photos with them and videos of locations I’ve been.”

Leach predicts the technology will continue to surpass the abilities of where we are now and that the FAA will continually update their regulations. For his students, it could lead to careers in drone technology with drones in network environments doing various jobs controlled by master drones.

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