While the drones being used in military settings might draw the big headlines, this is not the sole application of a technology that is quickly developing into one that is raising countless point of debate on the domestic front as well. Flight Plan: Charting a Course for Drones is a Washington State Public Affairs Network documentary exploration of how these concerns are making their way through the region, and the effect civilian drone flight has on the every-present issue of privacy in America.
The film first looks at hobby drone flight - filmmakers and videographers shooting purely to explore (mostly rural) areas from a new and exciting vantage point. Prices range on fully remote controlled rigs from as little as $400 to upwards of $3000, with possibilities for spending more on "souping up" the aircraft being endless. The Federal Aviation Administration currently requires the following of a drone flight for it to be considered of the "hobby" variety, and not subject to commercial FAA regulation:
- Flight must remain under 400 feet,
- Flight cannot take place inside five miles from an airport,
- The aircraft must remain within the line of sight of the operator at all times,
- The aircraft needs to weigh less than 55 pounds,
- Flight cannot be for any "commercial purpose."
More regulation policy has made its way into existence as well - many national parks have banned them, and congested urban areas are often off limits because of airspace restrictions, just as a couple examples.
Attention then turns to legislative efforts in the state capitol to regulate what we can and can't drone. Democratic House representative Jeff Morris is the state's leading advocate for curbing the potential for drones invading citizen's privacy, and we follow him as he talks about and demonstrates some of the risks that exist in the present day legal landscape.
As with any new technology that catches fire on the popularity front, and drones certainly have, a booming industry has developed to service the demand. Washington is a hotbed for that industry, and the film tours a location where unmanned aerial systems are produced for military clientele - so the units shown are on the forefront of technology and capability.