What is the difference between drones and remote controlled aircraft? What is the inflection where drones have now catapulted into this new category that is causing these new regulatory hurdles?
An audience member posed the question during a town hall style session at the Drone World Expo in San Jose. Here’s the response from Gretchen West, a senior advisor with Hogan Lovells.
Gretchen West: This industry has had an identity crisis for many, many years. The term drone was used years ago by the military to talk about unsophisticated targets and has evolved into a slang word used today. Many – especially with military or government backgrounds – have fought against using the term drone to describe the technology, but “drone” is now embedded and very unlikely to change.
It’s not about the vehicle itself. It’s about how it’s used, and that’s how the regulations have been formed.
There really is no difference between a drone and a remote controlled aircraft as far as regulations go from a terminology standpoint. If you’re flying for sport, you’re classified as a hobbyist. The second you’re flying that same exact aircraft and make money off it – you’re doing cinematography, something with agriculture – that becomes a commercial operation and then it falls under the FAA bucket.
So the vehicle you’re flying or what it’s called isn’t what differentiates, it’s how you’re using it. And there is a lot of grey area between commercial and recreational use which the FAA is working to better define.
It’s an identity crisis in terminology, but it comes down to the use case.