Many people know Alaska for its tundra and most of all bears. However, Alaska has a lot more to offer to people hoping to have an unforgettable vacation.
The 49th State of the United States offers visitors the following attractions:
- Alaska is home to an estimated 100,000 gigantic glaciers some of which are easily accessible. Best of all, visitors can access these glaciers much more easily than in other places. One such attraction is the Exit Glacier which is in Kenai Fjords National Park where visitors can walk to. Another is the Margerie Glacier in Glacier Bay National Park.
- There is amazing scenery in Alaska. A simple drive along the Seward Highway, for example, will have visitors stopping to take photos and videos every few minutes. The good thing is that there is no traffic.
- Alaska is also known for its ideal camping sites and hiking trails; it is the perfect haven for outdoor enthusiasts.
- There is an abundance of wildlife in Alaska. These include birds such as bald eagles, seals, and lions in the waters and the big 5 of Alaska (the grizzly bear, moose, Dall sheep, caribou, and wolves).
Visitors can use drones to take photographs and even film their experience in Alaska hence making it an unforgettable vacation.
However, there are a things that visitors need to know when planning to bring their Unmanned Aircraft Systems to Alaska:
Definition of Recreational Use:
The FAA defines the recreational use of drones as that which is meant for enjoyment, refreshment or relaxation purposes. Furthermore, the FAA requires that all recreational users of drones stick to the primary purpose which is the hobbyist use of drones or the use of drones for fun. This includes taking photos and videos meant for personal use.
In an instance where the user earns or helps another individual earn money through the drone, the FAA ceases to consider this recreational use and instead, considers it under the commercial use of drones. Other examples of commercial drone use include drones for hire or even taking photographs or videos meant for sale.
The following are some of the FAA rules that apply to the recreational use of drones:
Users should, therefore, register any drone weighing between 0.55 pounds and 55 pounds through the FAA’s online drone registration portal. Users intending to fly drones that weigh more than 55 pounds should register the drone on paper.
FAA Registration costs just $5 and the validity period of the registration is five years after which the user can obtain an extension of 3 more years at an additional $5.
Once registration is complete, the FAA issues registrants with a certificate of aircraft registration and also a registration number. Users must ensure that their drones are properly labeled with the registration number provided.
The registration process requires that applicants have:
- An e-mail address
- A credit card or debit card
- A physical address. Applicants can also provide a mailing address particularly if it is different from the physical address.
It is important for drone owners to understand that the FAA requires that users register every drone individually. Failure of a drone owner to register their drone can attract civil penalties of as much as $27,000 or even criminal penalties of up to $250,000, a prison term of 3 years or both.
Users must fly the drone within the parameters of a community-based set of safety rules and also by the programming of a community-based organization with a nationwide reach. These include guidelines such as those from the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA).
Some of the AMA guidelines include:
1) Recreational drone pilots must not operate any UAVs that carry pyrotechnic devices that have the potential of exploding or burning. Similarly, pilots should not operate any drones carrying any device that can propel a projectile or drop an object that is potentially hazardous to people and property.
2) Pilots should not operate turbine-powered drones unless the pilot is operating them by AMA turbine regulations.
3) Pilots of new or repaired drones are expected to carry out a successful radio equipment ground range check as per the recommendations of the manufacturer. Pilots must do this before the first flight of the specified drones.
4) Pilots and other individuals (such as spectators) are not allowed to touch outdoor drones while they are still under power unless the purpose of doing so is to change its projectile course to avoid it striking a person.
5) The pilot should ensure that the launch area of the drone is free from non-essential persons. People allowed at a launch area include mechanics, officials or other drone pilots.
This happens particularly during major sporting events such as Major League Baseball, National Football League games (both regular and pre-season), NCAA Division 1 football games or even major motor speedway events. The restriction applies to the entire national airspace system of the United States.
Apart from the FAA rules and requirements, the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Legislative Task Force in the state of Alaska has outlined a set of safety guidelines that recreational drone users in Alaska are expected to follow.
These rules include:
1. The drone pilot should fly by community-based safety guidelines such as those of AMA.
2. Drone pilots in Alaska must ensure that they do not fly above an altitude of 400 feet. In addition to that, pilots must always fly below any surrounding obstacles when possible.
3. Drone pilots must always ensure that they can clearly see their drones while flying them. This guideline is meant to enhance safety and prevent instances where drone pilots fly “blindly.” If the drone pilot is not able to have a clear visual sight of the aircraft, Alaskan regulations require that the pilot has an observer or spotter to assist.
4. Recreational drone users in Alaska must not fly a drone weighing more than 55 pounds unless an aeromodelling community-based organization certifies the drone.
5. Drone pilots in Alaska are also not allowed to fly in adverse weather conditions such as high winds, dense fog, heavy snow, ice storms and coastal storms. Simply, pilots are not allowed to fly their aircraft in scenarios of reduced visibility.
6. Whenever flying, drone pilots must always yield the right of way to manned aircraft operations. As a matter of fact, pilots must remain clear of manned aircraft, not interfere with the operations of manned aircraft and always ensure to steer clear of any obstacles. Drone pilots must also ensure that their operations do not force the pilots of manned aircraft to divert from its normal operations.
7. When it comes to using the drone in a public space, pilots are required to ensure that they do not fly over moving vehicles or unprotected persons. Alaskan regulations require that drone pilot remain not less than 25 feet from people and vulnerable property.
8. On this same note, drone pilots in Alaska are not allowed to fly near or over any sensitive or critical infrastructure such as correctional facilities, water treatment plants, power stations, electricity lines, roadways with heavy traffic, government facilities and military installations among others.
9. Drone pilots are not allowed to fly within 5 miles of an airport without first notifying airport authorities or without contacting the airport’s control tower. It is important for visitors to Alaska to note that there are many private airstrips as well as public airports in the state.
In addition to that, Alaska also has numerous water bodies that float plane pilots use to take off and land. Drone pilots must ensure that they fly their drones as far away as possible from these locations. It is also important to note that the FAA gives airport operators the right to object to the use of drones within 5 miles of the airport especially when there is a concern for safety.
10. Drone pilots must respect the privacy of other individuals and also the expectation of privacy while on private property. In this sense, the drone pilot must not fly their aircraft over or on private property without getting prior permission from the owner or tenant of the property.
11. Similarly, drone users whose purpose is to take photos and videos must ensure that they respect individual privacy particularly when there is an expectation of privacy. The right to privacy is stipulated both in the United State’s constitution as well as in the constitution of Alaska.
The 4th amendment provides for the protection of privacy in areas where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy such as one’s home or one’s car. On the other hand, Article 1, Section 22 of Alaska’s Constitution recognizes every individual’s right to privacy and explicitly states that not one should infringe upon this right.
In this sense, it is illegal for pilots to use drones for purposes such as stalking, harassing, indecent viewing or even taking photos and videos of other people without their permission. Drone pilots must also not expose elements of an individual’s privacy to other people without consent from the affected individual.
12. It is essential for drone pilots to ensure that they are in a sober and balanced state of mind whenever operating their unmanned aircraft systems in Alaska. Flying drones while under the influence of drugs or alcohol is strictly forbidden.
13. Perhaps most importantly, it is the responsibility of the drone pilot to ensure that they fly in a safe environment. Furthermore, it is a personal responsibility of drone pilots to ensure that they have acquired the necessary skill and competence to operate an unmanned aircraft system safely.
14. Drone pilots are not allowed to fly over emergency situations and other law enforcement operations. As a matter of fact, doing anything that will restrict or interfere with the operations of emergency workers is not allowed as it poses a huge risk to the emergency workers and also negates their efforts in protecting and saving lives, property or natural resources.
Wildfires are especially common in Alaska, and drone pilots are restricted from flying their aircraft over such wildfires. Drones may sometimes interfere with the aerial support that is often required in such emergency situations. In some cases, however, the fire managers may authorize certain civilian drones to help in emergency operations.
Lastly, people intending to carry their drones while on vacation in Alaska must remember that most national parks in the United States are considered no-fly zones. The National Park Service banned drones in national parks due to noise and safety concerns.