Buying a drone for Xmas? What you need to know
LOS ANGELES – Drones are expected to be one of the hottest gifts for the holiday season. But buyer beware -there’s a lot more to owning a drone than taking home that new video camera.
Drones, on view in major force here at the International Drone Expo, which ends today, are legal for non-commercial use only. Industry experts, we interviewed here said photographers, real estate agents and others who want to use drones for their businesses need to put in a good 20 hours getting approvals from the Federal Aviation Administration.
And everyone needs to obey local rules–many cities, including New York and Phoenix, have banned the use of drones.
“The rules are pretty simple,” says Steve Petrotto, a product manager for Horizon Hobby, a Champagne, Illinois drone re-seller. “Don’t fly by airports, don’t fly over 400 feet, and don’t fly for commercial purposes.”
That can be arranged–with what’s called a 333 waiver from the FAA, which requires 20 hours of training to learn how to fly–airplanes. Yes, that includes learning how to take off and land a plane. You’ll also need a sport pilot’s license.
Stephen Gowdy, who runs the Gowdy Bros. Aerospace company from Shakopee, Minnesota, offers 333 waiver assistance, helping applicants fill out their paperwork and process the applications for around $1,500.
Companies like Amazon and Google are looking to drones to deliver products more efficiently than traditional delivery services.
At the Expo, we saw drones of every shape and variety on display–from a $30 mini drone toy to a $150,000 unit that was pitched as a helicopter.
That new eagerly awaited new drone from GoPro, called Kharma, wasn’t on display here, nor was that new Drone from DJI that can operate in the dark.
Edward Ren from AAE Technology in China displayed a huge new $250,000 model aimed at flying for way longer than a few minutes.
The larger FEE drone, “is for stability,” says Ren. “It’s for high altitude flight. Takes better wind resistance, and gets a high altitude. For law enforcement. This a drone for people who need go very far away, and needs to stay in the air for a very long time.”
The FAA predicts sales of over 1 million drones in 2015, and that easily dwarfs the 250,000 airplanes and helicopters that currently occupy out air space, says Keith Kaplan, the interim CEO of the Unmanned Ariel Vehicle Systems Association.
“‘They won’t be flying at the same time, but have to think about, you’re a responsible pilot now,” he says.
Follow USA TODAY Tech columnist Jefferson Graham on Twitter: @jeffersongraham