Drone Bias And Intolerance. Are you prepared?
By Cher Brown, FAA Part 107 Certified Remote Pilot/Aerial Cinematographer
August 21, 2017 was one of the most important days in my professional life, as an Aerial Cinematographer. This greatly anticipated day was the culmination of several months of planning, research and sacrifice. This was the day, unlike any other, that I would film the 2017 Great American Eclipse from a remote mountaintop area in North Carolina with my Mavic Pro! Although my day started out with great joy and anticipation, it ended quite the opposite, due to a very real and disturbing reality that most professional drone pilots are confronted with – drone bias and intolerance.
Throughout my studies in aviation principles and FAA sUAS laws, as well as in further classroom education and training, instructors stressed the fact that one day, each of us would encounter people who had a negative perception about drones. Everyone seems to have a story about a negative drone encounter! Drone pilots are encouraged to use this as an opportunity to educate and enlighten them on safe and respectful drone practices. Ultimately, if people around you are becoming aggravated or hostile, end the flight and refrain from engaging in conflict. This is all great advice, but it’s sometimes painfully difficult to follow.
When we arrived at our mountain overlook spot, four people were seated in chairs, claiming their spot to witness the eclipse. After chatting with everyone and also settling in to our folding chairs, I informed the group that I intended to film the eclipse with my drone. That got them pretty excited, but not in a good way!
I have to admit, I was not prepared for the level of intensity in which these people expressed their objections. Some said that drones were dangerous and violated their privacy, that they should only be flown in designated areas; others felt they were used to spy on people and have watched people in their neighborhood fly recklessly. More than one said they wanted to shoot them out of the sky with a gun! It was quite clear they had drone bias and intolerance.
I took a deep breath and calmly began advocating for safe, respectful drone operations. I explained my training, education and certification. I explained my core values as a safe, responsible pilot. As a professional aerial cinematographer, I was here to work a job documenting the eclipse. I believe they understood my position, but one person did not want me to fly the drone around them. So, I scouted another launch site approximately 250 feet away from the group/overlook and planned to launch straight up between the side of the mountain and the tree line on the opposite side of the narrow road.
By myself, away from the group of observers, I launched my Mavic Pro seven minutes prior to Totality and finalized my settings to obtain stunning footage of the impending eclipse. With only three minutes left, I hear my husband yelling out for me to “bring it down”…what?!…“too noisy”.
Suddenly, everything felt surreal. I couldn’t launch the drone forward because I had no way to establish visual line of sight. I was out of time, out of luck and out of options. Time to make the call; Go or No Go? With a lump in my throat, I brought my drone down to ensure everyone experienced Totality in calm silence.
It’s at these moments, each of us, as Pilot’s In Command, needs to make difficult decisions. I fully believe our decision making defines who we are, builds character and tests our willingness to make personal sacrifices for the sake of promoting goodwill among those with strong anti-biases.
I’m still torn about this situation. I made every effort to accommodate others, ease their fears and generate goodwill. I also took every precaution to ensure that I was flying legally, checked the weather report, reviewed NOTAM’s, TFR’s, obtained my North Carolina drone permit, and printed a copy of the national forest drone policy…legally, I had the “right” to conduct my business. What was missing was the support and acceptance from the public sector.
There is a lot of work to be done to advocate for a remote pilot’s right to conduct safe, responsible and respectful drone flights. I am happy to “take one for the team”, but the team needs to join together to create some type of universal “best practices” for drone pilots, then follow up with social media campaigns that drill down on positive messaging aimed at overcoming drone bias and intolerance. Always be certain that every time you gracefully conduct yourself when facing drone bias or intolerance, you are raising up team members.
I plan to attend the next eclipse in the US (2024). Unless anti-drone perceptions improve, I will look into renting a small home or cabin and launch from private property. Never again will I allow drone bias or intolerance to determine whether or not I fly during such an “epic” event.
FAA Part 107 Certified Remote Pilot/Aerial Cinematographer
“Her Perspectives” are the independent views and opinions of the submitting named author of this article.