Buying Drones For Holiday Gifts? The Government Has a Warning or Two

Before you buy a drone for your kids this holiday, know the laws. Just kidding, there are basically no laws.

(Screengrab via George Zisiadis/Youtube)
(Screengrab via George Zisiadis/Youtube)

It doesn’t matter if you’re still floundering on Thanksgiving plans: the holiday season is definitely upon us (yes, already) and you’re going to be out shopping soon enough. If Weird Al’s bizarre Radio Shack commercial is any indication, small quadcopters drones are going to be a hot item for dads who’ve already upgraded their spoiled kids to the iPhone 6 Plus already.

In advance of the holiday drone-buying onslaught, the United States and the U.K. are attempting to educate people about the laws surrounding their drone usage. After all, small drones inhabit a funny legal grey area between model planes and small aircraft — a distinction that gets more fuzzy if you plan on using them to pick up some freelance aerial photography gigs.

In the U.S., where legislation has been stalled for years while the Federal Aviation Administration figures out what to do about drones, there are more well-established rules for model aircraft. The FAA has a list of “Do’s and Don’ts” of model aircraft flying — the “Do’s” including taking lessons, only flying drones as part of sanctioned local club and, of course, enjoy yourself. The “Don’ts” include using your drone to make money, flying near airports or flying it out of your line of sight. The Amazon web store has a link to a “Fly Responsibly” page, which simply forwards you along to what the FAA says.

In the U.K., the Civil Aviation authority has put out a pamphlet called “You have control” that reminds British drone owners that they have to keep their eye on their drones at all times, and remember that if anything goes wrong in the course of a fun and friendly flight, they are totally culpable for any problems.

Until both governments play catch-up with new legislation — which the FAA optimistically thinks will be resolved in the next few months — most of these are hard and fast rules that these small agencies have no formal mechanism for enforcing on a nationwide scale.

Still, be careful when you’re shooting those vacation GoPro panoramas. Buying Drones For Holiday Gifts? The Government Has a Warning or Two