A few years ago there were reports of commercial drone pilots being attacked by angry members of the public. Some are verbally harassed, others lose their vehicles to shotgun blasts, and still others are outright assaulted. Unfortunately, it’s not much of a surprise that the public opinion of UAVs is negative. The media spotlight seems to shine exclusively on the small number of pilots who misuse their craft — and feeds into the growing paranoia that UAVs exist for the sole purpose of spying.
If you’re unlucky enough to be cornered by an irate bystander while flying, here are some steps you can take to defuse the situation.
Start by asking the person to wait a moment while you land your aircraft. If they give you push back on landing, let them know that if the UAV were to collide with a person it could do serious harm. Once you’ve landed your drone, take time to listen to their concerns. Avoid escalating the situation by responding in a calm and collected manner. If you are being yelled at, you can gently make the person aware of how confrontational they’re being by stating, “You seem really angry about this.” This can help to calm them down as many people get lost in the moment and don’t realize they are being aggressive.
Explain what you’re doing and why you’re there. If you’re there for professional reasons, tell them. If you’re there as a hobbyist, explain why you fly UAVs and why you chose that area to fly.
Know the law. The FAA has a few important guidelines for hobby pilots, and it’s extremely important to follow them. You won’t be doing yourself or anyone else any favors by breaking the rules.
However, regulations rarely come up when confronted by the public. People are far more likely to reference privacy laws that simply don’t exist. The cold hard fact is that there is no expectation of privacy in public places. If you’re filming in a public place, you’re safe. Furthermore, as much as people would like to consider their fenced yards private areas, they are not. If they were, services like Google Earth wouldn’t exist. Like it or not, it is perfectly legal to fly a UAV over someone’s back yard.
However, whatever the law may be, people are bound to get riled up if they think their privacy is being infringed upon. That’s why it’s a good idea to wear a head-mounted GoPro and keep it recording as you fly. You never know when situations might turn violent, and having footage of the altercation as evidence will help when pressing charges.
While there isn’t any expectation of privacy in public places, it doesn’t mean you can’t be a considerate member of the community. If the noise of your UAV is disrupting someone’s peace and quiet, consider flying it elsewhere. If you’re looking to get stunning aerial views of beaches or hiking trails, try to do it when such areas are the least crowded. And if someone doesn’t want to be filmed, don’t film them.
Be an Ambassador
There’s no doubt about it, UAVs are cool. If you’ve defused the situation to the point of civil conversation, offer to show the person how UAVs work — what they can and can’t do, flight paths, etc. Since so much of the controversy around UAVs has to do with perceived spying ability, explain how the cameras on even the highest end UAVs are only equipped with an ultra wide angle lens and have no ability to zoom. This makes them a poor choice for spying — a DSLR camera with a telephoto lens would be far better (and cheaper).
Since many fear what they don’t understand, educating people about what is and isn’t possible is key. Most people who find out what UAVs are really capable of find a new appreciation for these fantastic little pieces of technology. By explaining the why and how behind your craft, you may help create another fan — and the more UAV enthusiasts there are, the more innovation we’ll see in their future development.
It’s not pleasant being constantly on guard when flying in public, but until the average Joe knows more about UAVs, it’s just going to be a way of life. As long as you’re prepared to handle each situation in a calm and collected manner, things should (hopefully) go swimmingly.
In Summary – Commercial Drone Pilots & The Public
Anyone who flies drones commercially knows that there is always the potential for confrontation with members of the public. After all, not everyone is comfortable with the idea of drones flying overhead, and some people may feel like their privacy is being invaded. If you find yourself in a situation where someone is confronting you about your drone usage, it’s important to stay calm and polite.
First, try to explain what you’re doing and why. If the person is still not satisfied, you can offer to stop flying in that area or even give them a chance to fly the drone themselves. In most cases, simply being open and understanding will diffuse the situation. However, if the person becomes aggressive, it’s best to end the conversation and move on. Remember, safety always comes first when flying drones, so it’s not worth putting yourself in a dangerous situation.