It was just a matter of time really, even though many drone manufacturers are adding technology to their drones to prevent them from been able to fly in certain areas, usually military or government classified no fly zone (airports/ military installations etc), there are also additional laws been passed to support existing and increase the number of no fly zones.
The “No Fly Zone Law” works in several different ways, it enforces existing no fly technology to make it absolutely clear to pilots that they should not be flying drones in certain areas, however, it also enables more quick and sometimes temporary enforcement of no fly zones.
Quick and Temporary Enforcement
It is easier for the US government (or any government for that matter) to announce an area as a no fly zone and have this enforced legally with a fine/jail time for people who choose to ignore the law than it is for them to consult with all of the popular drone manufacturers and request that they add additional no fly zones to their software.
When a drone manufacturer is in agreement with a government suggested no fly zone and willing to add that to its software the additional development and testing required to make an area “No Fly” will take time but then, for it to work, pilots must choose to download and apply the latest updates.
If a new no fly zone was added to DJIs Drones today (possibly the best manufacturer if you want to get the best drone for the money) it is very possible that it could take years before this software was applied to the existing drones on the market. It is possible some drones may totally evade the update and never have that update applied.
Interestingly a Russian software company called Coptersafe is selling software in the form of firmware modifications which will override the no fly technology in drones, this is why a technically enforced no fly zone is not enough on its own.
During an event, such as New Years Eve the US government could announce that there is a temporary no fly over and around Times Square, this would immediately stop flight of drones in a highly crowded area but allow for the airspace to be reopened the following day. At the moment this sort of quick change to no fly zones is just not feasibly enforceable via technology alone.
There has been talk of legally enforced no fly zones for some time but the latest change to the law was implemented quickly after it was requested by the US defence department and federal intelligence agencies following a civilian drone crashing into an army helicopter last week 500ft above Staten Island, New York, directly over a residential area. The army helicopter did land safely and no serious damage was done, however, the helicopter blades needed to be repaired. The drone pilot has not yet been identified or found, at this stage is looks like the pilot of the drone will not be able to be identified.
Drones are now legally banned from flying within 400ft of around 20 US national landmarks which include the Mount Rushmore, Boston Historical National Park and several tourists attractions such as the Status of Liberty.
Drones are really still in their infancy and even though people are becoming more aware of their existence the take up within the consumer marketplace has really stalled. With anything as new and impactful as drones technology the tech usually leads the way and the law clambers along behind it trying to keep up, this is what we are seeing here.
Initially you could buy a drone almost anonymously and fly it anywhere, now we are seeing an increase in the number of laws and the technology to support safe flight. It is likely that in the future the laws around drone flight will become more streamlined and we might even see something effectively like a driving test of sorts or perhaps some kind of level system where a level 1 pilot is able to fly in a park but a level 10 pilot able to fly over houses. Its impossible to predict how drone flight will develop over the next 10 years, it could possibly even die out completely, maybe replaced by something else entirely.
As we are living a world of social media, we would suggest a sensible and easy to implement approach to managing no fly zones would be to have a central “common sense” body in control of a twitter account which could announce no fly zones as they came into effect. Drone pilots could be kept upto date with the latest news simply by following this account.