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Friday, 18 December 2015 12:01

New regulations take flight as drone sales skyrocket

Written by  Edwin Scherzer/For Walworth County Sunday
Jon Danno, co-owner of Hobby Town USA in Lake Geneva, gives a drone flight demonstration outside the store. Drones are big sellers this holiday season, even in the wake of increasing regulation by the Federal Aviation Administration. Jon Danno, co-owner of Hobby Town USA in Lake Geneva, gives a drone flight demonstration outside the store. Drones are big sellers this holiday season, even in the wake of increasing regulation by the Federal Aviation Administration. Terry Mayer/staff

LAKE GENEVA -- Will a drone be landing under your Christmas tree this year? If so, you’re not alone: The Federal Aviation Administration estimates 1 million of the unmanned aerial vehicles will be given as gifts this holiday season.

As a highly sought after gift-gadget that drones have become for the hobbyist, they also come with an ever-hovering cloud of regulations and controversy. Existing guidelines already place drones at a 400-foot ceiling and mandate that they cannot be flown within three miles of an airport or landing strip. After hearing suggestions from the aviation industry, the FAA issued a new policy last week requiring all to register.

According to an FAA news release: Unmanned aircraft owners who have operated them only as model aircraft before Dec. 21 must register by Feb. 19. Owners of other unmanned aircraft purchased for model aircraft after Dec. 21 must register before the first flight outdoors.

Registration can be done online at faa.gov/uas/registration.

"Make no mistake: Unmanned aircraft enthusiasts are aviators, and with that title comes a great deal of responsibility," U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in the news release. "Registration gives us an opportunity to work with these users to operate their unmanned aircraft safely."

Responsible use

The local Silver Eagles RC club already belongs to American Model Aeronautics, which Silver Eagles Vice President Paul Beeftink feels makes radio-controlled hobbyists safer than those new to the aviation scene. AMA members agree to fly by a certain safety code and lose their liability insurance if they don’t. All planes carry a serial number, and as an extra step, RC pilots include their name and phone number in case of loss or damage to property. 

Beeftink said controls already were in place on the larger drones that have to be overridden by the operator.

"We’ve been abiding by that 400-foot rule in our club with our planes for some time," Beeftink said. "In order for a drone to go higher, you have to manually override the control, and that’s where you can get into trouble."

There also have been reports across the country of people using drones for eavesdropping on neighbors and attempting to fly contraband into prison yards.

"I personally like to think good about everybody, but there’s going to be people out there, whether they’re using a drone or a vehicle or binoculars, they’re going to find ways to be deceitful and dishonest and hurt other people," said Marjorie Danno, who co-owns Hobby Town USA in Lake Geneva with her husband, Jon.

Drones are the hottest product selling at Hobby Town USA, Jon Danno said.

"Right now, because of the hype of drones, they’re probably 2-to-1 sellers over every (RC) car and airplane we carry," Jon Danno said.

Outside of military-type UAVs, there are three main types of drones --  professional grade-AP (aerial photography), payload quality such as the highly anticipated drones expected to be used by Amazon and hobby grade.

Jon Danno said it’s typically the last category where he sees the post-Christmas, hard-luck stories about drones bought online or in big-box stores that are in need of repair.

"There’s hobby grade and then there’s knockoffs," Danno said. "I carry parts for every drone I sell ..."

It’s not just sales and repair that Danno delves into. To date he has provided aerial coverage for the Walworth County Fair, the Midwest Horse Show, Wilmot Raceway and the aftermath of the tornado touchdown in Lake Geneva. He doesn’t charge for any of the footage he takes; the payoff of free publicity is a greater benefit, he said.

Next season Danno will be filming Badger High School football games with the intent of giving coaches a bird’s-eye view of plays.

Drone sales at Hobby Town come from all around the county and beyond. Some people are buying drones for professional instead of recreational purposes, he said.

"Real estate agents are buying them so they can go and film their property they’re going to sell," Danno said. "A couple of building inspectors have bought them for wintertime so they can check the roof, and they avoid going up themselves when it’s icy." 

Hobby Town also sold a dozen drones to Dairy Farmers of America with the purpose of tracking down livestock by air, rather than driving all over the pasture looking on an all-terrain vehicle.

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