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What You Should Know Before You Test The Holiday's 'Flyest' Gift

Chinese brand DJI Technology Co. has become the leading supplier in the commercial drone market. The Phantom 2 Vision+ drone pictured functions by remote control.
Kin Cheung
Chinese brand DJI Technology Co. has become the leading supplier in the commercial drone market. The Phantom 2 Vision+ drone pictured functions by remote control.

The Manchester, N.H., regional airport put out a special holiday message this year. And no, it wasn't about trying to bring liquids on board or keeping watch for Santa Claus on radar.

It's meant for people who will get drones this holiday season. "Aircraft operating within a five-mile radius of the airport must contact the airport communications center," they wrote.

And that's not all you need to know. Wired's Tim Moynihan has a few more guidelines that may save new drone owners a Christmas morning phone call to the FAA.

Interview Highlights

On the most important rules before firing up your drone

Surprisingly there aren't many regulations for consumer drones. There are some important rules that you have to stick to.

  • You can't fly within five miles of an airport without special permission.
  • You're not allowed to fly in heavily populated areas or over sports stadiums.
  • You can only fly at altitudes of 400 feet or less.
  • And you can't fly in D.C., because someone crashed a drone on the White House lawn.
  • On the airport proximity restriction

    I think the regulations are going to change soon. Basically the existing regulations have to do with model airplanes, they sort of date back to the early 1980s.

    On whether it's a popular gift this year

    The consumer technology association says that nearly half a million drones are going to be sold over the holidays. And I think that most of those are on the toy end of the spectrum – they're safe to fly indoors and they have really low-resolution cameras on them.

    This is a big year for the technology. Obviously they're in the news, people are really excited about them. There are a few major players on the consumer front that are making sort of these smaller drones for personal use. But I don't think those are going to be a nuisance in the skies. I think what's happening on a larger scale is that there's sort of these commercial drones. Of course, Amazon has been rumored to be making drones for deliveries. And there are a lot of things that need to happen in order for that to become a reality. Obviously, it becomes like shipping lanes in the sky and I think, you know, there's a lot of regulation and planning that needs to come out of that. ...

    It's one of those things where, if you're interested in photography and videography, or if you just like remote control cars or remote control planes, that's really the draw for consumers at this point. I wouldn't say it's a mainstream thing. I would say it's a big year for it, but moving forward, it's sort of up in the air as to what the potential use cases are for a consumer.

    Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    NPR Staff