CEDAR FALLS — Cedar Falls photographer Tim Dodd always looks for the best angle for a photograph.
About four years ago he took to the air, using drones to shoot pictures.
“As a photographer you’re always looking for a new perspective on things,” Dodd said. “What better way than to build a flying camera?”
Dodd rigged his drone to carry camera equipment with tinkering, experimenting and trial and error. Since then, technology has improved and camera-carrying drones have become more numerous.
“I went from building on my kitchen table to being able to buy something better in a handful of years,” Dodd said. “It’s been fun to see how quickly things are changing.”
In May, the Iowa Department of Transportation said the number of manned aircraft registered with the FAA in Iowa — 3,749 — has been passed by the number of unmanned aircraft registered in Iowa — 4,895. The FAA estimates there will be more than 600,000 drone aircraft operating in the U.S. within a year.
Regulations governing drones haven’t evolved as quickly. Operators faced some restrictions on altitude and flying near airports but weren’t required to have a license to fly a drone. Last week, new Federal Aviation Administration rules went into effect governing commercial drone operations.
The rules apply to drones more than 0.55 pounds and less than than 55 pounds. They require operators to:
Keep drones within sight at all times.
Refrain from flying drones over people not involved in their operation.
Restrict drone flights from a half-hour before sunrise to a half-hour after sunset.
Fly no faster than 100 mph.
Fly no higher than 400 feet.
Anyone 16 years or older can apply for a drone license. Previously, commercial drone operators needed a pilot’s license. Operators must now take a test to use commercial drones. The FAA also requires commercial drone operators to register the aircraft.
Dodd said he understands and welcomes the regulations.
“It’s going to make me feel more secure about what I do,” Dodd said. “For the last four years, I feel like I’ve been tiptoeing around legally even though there was no regulation.”
The FAA did have guidelines regarding operating aircraft within a five-mile radius of a commercial airport.
“The FAA owns the airspace and operators of drones need to respect that,” said Keith Kaspari, Waterloo Regional Airport director of aviation.
Kaspari added operators can check on their location in relation to airports with a mobile app “b4ufly.”
Dodd said he would contact the Waterloo Regional Airport and advise them when he would fly in that zone which includes downtown Cedar Falls and George Wyth State Park.
Kaspari said the new regulations help airport and control tower personnel and drone operators. The changing technology created a unique circumstance for the FAA, he added.
“The FAA has had a challenge to really get a handle on this, whose going to operate drones, what are their intentions in operating it,” Kaspari said.
The applications of drone technology are broad, he added. Commercial uses include commercial photography and law enforcement, and farmers are increasing using drones to monitor crops and livestock.
“The applications are almost endless,” Kaspari said.