Does an Aerial Drone Pilot have the Right to Fly Over Private Property?

Does This Sign Apply to Aerial Drones?

Does This Sign Apply to Aerial Drones?

There’s an altitude limit at which property owners own their airspace. Above that altitude, it’s owned by the federal government. But regardless of altitude, airborne aircraft are always operating under the jurisdiction of the Federal Aviation Administration.

Federal case law first established property owner’s airspace in 1946 as a minimum altitude of 83 feet in a foundational ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court “United States v. Causby, 328 US 266 (1946).” A navigable airspace boundary was later established by Congress as the minimum altitude for aircraft flights – stated as 500 feet above ground level in the “Congress” hotlink. Property rights laws generally accept altitudes below the minimum navigable airspace as the airspace owned by private property owners.

To be clear, the FAA has jurisdiction over all airspace above the ground where aircraft can operate. However, the FAA does not own the airspace below those altitudes defined as navigable airspace.

What Do I Need to Know as a Drone Pilot?

One lengthy legal analysis suggests drone pilots have the right to fly their drones at 400 feet above private property. As you know, 400 feet is also the maximum altitude that drones may operate (with certain exceptions). Note: I couldn’t verify their 400-feet altitude spec, but offer this resource since it cites some good historical information. Whether you’re using 400 feet or 500 feet, current case law favors the property owner if a claim of trespass is made against the pilot.

Does this mean that if you’re doing commercial photography you’re at risk if your drone flies over an adjacent property? Maybe. However, proving loss of the owner’s “full enjoyment of their land” would be difficult if there’s no evidence of: (1) the drone is causing a nuisance: (2) being flown recklessly; or (3) violating your state’s privacy law. In our experience when flying our drone on commercial jobs, it’s very difficult to avoid flying over a neighbor’s private property. So when we’re on a job, we always have a copy of the owner’s (or agent’s) tasking and fly safe.

I’ve been approached by curious neighbors asking what I’m doing with my drone and have found that by explaining the tasking and showing them the drone’s video display it creates a lot of good will. First, they can see that the drone’s wide-angle camera makes it a poor platform for spying. Second, they think it’s very cool to learn about this kind of technology.

This is also a good time to hand out a business card. Sometimes curious neighbors may have a good question down the road, such as “Can I hire you to photograph my property?”

What About Public Lands, Such as the National Parks?

We covered this question in our blog posted on December 7, 2017 “Everything You Never Wanted To Know About Flying Your Drone in the National Parks.” The NPS Director’s Policy Memo 14-05 stated that aerial drones may not be operated from park property, but may be flown over park property (within the FAA’s Part 107 rules). Apparently, federally-owned land managers defer matters of airspace to the FAA.

Summary

Private property owners are within their rights to demand that drone pilots keep their drones away from their property lines. This is a request that responsible drone pilots should respect. Unless a lawful objection has been raised, whenever flying over private property always fly in a safe and professional manner. This will minimize your risk of an unpleasant confrontation and possible legal action.

Don’t miss our upcoming blogs on a property owner’s right to shoot your drone out of the sky (they can’t), and your right to retrieve a drone that lands/crashes onto private property.

This Crosswind is Driving My Drone Crazy

Heading Offset Due To Crosswind

Heading Offset Due To Crosswind

As mentioned in my previous blog, “Flying in High Winds – What Could Possibly Go Wrong?,” wind can affect your drone’s flight control system. In severe situations, its effects are immediately apparent on your screen, such as an image that bounces around. However, there’s another more subtle effect that can impact your videography, which you should know about.

Review of Your Drone’s Flight Control System

First, let’s review what keeps your drone stable while in flight. Today’s sophisticated drones use a magnetic compass and the global positioning system (GPS) to determine the drone’s heading and position. The drone’s inertial navigation system is always comparing its solution with that of GPS to hold the drone in position and to keep the camera steady. So, even if the wind is buffeting your drone, its control system is doing a pretty good job of holding the camera steady.

However, if the wind is high enough and the gusts strong enough, the drone’s flight control system can be driven into its non-linear region. This appears as bouncing around in the video feed to your screen and recorded images if you’re shooting video. Your only solution is to wait until the wind settles down and try again.

Wind Can Affect Your Videography in Other Ways

While flying your drone manually, you’ll probably never notice the effect of a crosswind. However, in programmed flights, such as DJI’s waypoint mode, you may notice a yawing (heading) effect while the drone is flying from point A to point B. This effect is known as “crabbing.”

Crabbing is where the yaw axis of the camera offsets from the drone’s direction of travel. Stated another way, while your drone’s course toward Point B may be on a direct heading, it offsets in yaw to another angle, typically turning into the wind.

In light winds, the crabbing effect is minor, but as the crosswind speed picks up it becomes more pronounced. Its effect on your video? You’ll notice your drone’s video image offset a few degrees from the straight-ahead direction.

What Causes Crabbing?

Your drone does a pretty good job of maintaining its heading and position along the desired track over ground. However, it still has to adjust heading to compensate for wind and stay on the objective track. When your drone adjusts the heading, its camera crabs over to an offset angle. This is simply vector math and is commonly encountered in aviation scenarios (as well as for boats in crosscurrents, etc.). Think of an airplane landing in a crosswind – notice how its angle relative to the runway is offset? That’s crabbing.

What Can I Do With This Information?

With awareness of crabbing, you can look for its effect on your videography. If it becomes objectionable then you can increase your drone’s speed (again, vector math), wait for a calmer day, or crop out some of the offset in postprocessing.