Disney files three patent applications for drones

The Orlando Sun-Sentinel reports in a not-as-funny-as-the-writer-thinks-he-is sort of tone that Disney has filed a series of patent applications to use drones in its theme parks.

The first two systems

could be used for the drones to carry either screens for displays or lights overhead. Both would be lightweight and flexible enough to move easily and be controlled from the ground. Of course, both easily could be seen as creating a high-tech digital fireworks show overhead that would be safer and more controlled – and which would cost less than the nightly pyrotechnics that go off at the parks now, as well.

The third concept

would use multiple drones attached to balloons or super-large puppets to make them move – and in the case of the puppets, seemingly walk – as the drones control the movements of the characters’ limbs.

We suspect that part of Disney’s goal is to produce shows similar to this:

Or, pace the linked article, perhaps Disney has other plans in mind?

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h/t SaintPetersblog

Twin Cities Law Firm Launches Drone Practice

The Twin Cities law firm of Fafinski Mark & Johnson is launching a “drone” practice group. The law firm “said Tuesday that it has been closely monitoring the developing drone industry, and legal advisors and litigators from its aviation group will lead the new practice group.”

Expect to see more aviation law firms expand into the realm of drone law.

FAA Investigates Congressman’s Drone Wedding Video

Whoops:

The Federal Aviation Administration indicated Wednesday that it is investigating whether a video of an upstate New York congressman’s wedding last month violated the agency’s ban on drone flights for commercial purposes.

The agency’s carefully worded statement doesn’t mention Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, a Democrat, by name, but said it was looking into “a report of an unmanned aircraft operation in Cold Spring, New York, on June 21 to determine if there was any violation of federal regulations or airspace restrictions.”

Although we hope that the photographer doesn’t get hit, on balance we find this situation to be rather amusing. The FAA is being forced by its own misguided rhetoric to investigate an event that was paid for by a member of Congress whose responsibilities include FAA oversight.

Break out the popcorn.

NYC Drone Operators Charged

After an alleged near-miss with a NYPD helicopter over the George Washington Bridge, two drone operators have been arrested and will face charges for reckless endangerment. The NY Post has more details, including an allegation that the drones were being operated at an altitude of 2,000 feet.

The author of the Forbes article (at the first link) argues that no additional laws are necessary in a case like this:

Remy Castro, 23 and Wilkins Mendoza, 34 were charged in Manhattan Criminal Court with felony reckless endangerment. That law states:

A person is guilty of reckless endangerment in the first degree when, under circumstances evincing a depraved indifference to human life, he recklessly engages in conduct which creates a grave risk of death to another person.”

The author discusses whether the charge might be reduced to misdemeanor endangerment, given the high burden of proof for a charge of felony endangerment. His reasoning seems correct to us.

FAA Rewrites Timeline for Integration of UAS

Aviation Week reports that the FAA is preparing to implement a 5-year plan for the phased integration of UAS.

Responding to an auditor’s report critical of its progress toward integrating unmanned aircraft into national airspace, the FAA says it expects to complete a plan by the end of August for a phased implementation approach over five years.

That is good news. However, the article contains this nugget of denial from the FAA regarding the timing of its plan as required by Section 332 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012. In response to the Inspector General’s conclusion that the FAA will miss its September 30, 2015 deadline to safely and fully integrate UAS into the national airspace, the FAA responds: “The Act requires safe – not full – integration of UAS into the NAS by September 2015.”

We suppose this depends on what the meaning of “integration” is. Section 332(a)(1) of the Act required the FAA to have a plan in place for the integration of UAS within 270 days of the Act’s date of enactment. The required contents of that plan included provisions for:

(C) a phased-in approach to the integration of civil unmanned aircraft systems into the national airspace system;
(D) a timeline for the phased-in approach described under subparagraph (C)….

The plan scheduled for release at the end of August would apparently comply with those requirements in substance, but it’s coming about a year too late.

In the meantime, Section 332(a)(3) of the Act clearly states:

The plan required under paragraph (1) shall provide for the safe integration of civil unmanned aircraft systems into the national airspace system as soon as practicable, but not later than September 30, 2015.

The FAA now claims that this language requires some level of safe integration, but not complete integration, by that deadline. This might be a defensible position, given Congress’ omission of the word “all” from the sentence. But given the FAA’s history of foot-dragging, it strikes us as more of a post hoc rationale than a good-faith interpretation of Congressional intent.