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Rules for domestic drones on UNC campus unveiled

Drone popularity has skyrocketed in the past few years, but the Department of Public Safety says drones aren’t allowed on campus without prior permission.

There were two reports of unauthorized drones being flown on campus within the past week.

“We responded to the report of a drone that was flown near South Building,” DPS spokesman Randy Young said. “We asked the person who was operating the drone if he would take it down and not fly it on campus property and they were fully cooperative.”

Journalism professor Steven King attempted to get permission to fly a drone in order to record aerial footage of the celebration of School of Media and Journalism’s name change. But DPS did not approve King's request. 

Young said the state legislature decides the policy for flying drones: “There is a policy that states not only do you have to get a permit from the Federal Aviation Administration to go through training, but then you have to work with facilities in order to fly a drone.”

The FAA owns the airspace and governs everything that flies between the surface of the earth and outer space’s perimeter, said Kyle Snyder, NextGen Air Transportation Center Director at N.C. State University’s Institute for Transportation Research and Education.

King said in order to fly on campus property, you also need an FAA Certificate of Authorization.

As technology has advanced and the production of drones has become less expensive, their use has raised a lot of questions.

“In the last three years, we have seen this tremendous proliferation of small drones showing up at the consumer and commercial level, bringing this technology out to about anyone who can benefit from it,” Snyder said.

Snyder said North Carolina has been interested in drones for about four years now. He said the state has become a leader in drone development, researching the different applications for using drones and how to make them smarter, safer and more reliable.

“It won’t be too far into the future, say 10-15 years, before seeing a drone doing something of commercial value becomes an everyday regular thing,” Snyder said.

Young said the non-permitted use of drones on campus creates a lot of safety issues.

“Without permission they are not allowed on campus,” he said. “There may be some situations where a drone might be of use for campus photography and in that case it will be permitted by specific facilities.”

Snyder said there are plenty of rules in place regarding the regulation of drones but one of the big dangers right now is people who don’t understand those rules.

“Traditionally, technology matures faster than regulations do,” Snyder said. “One of the big challenges today is to figure out how to better manage airspace and how to keep up with everything that’s flying around.”

Flying too close to airports and airplanes is also a big problem.

“Birds are smart enough to not go flying around airports,” Snyder said. “But people flying a drone too close to airports is reckless and careless since they don’t understand how close the airport is. Therefore, working on technologies that prevent this from happening is crucial.”

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