This week, at Embry-Riddle, we're tasked with giving an example of the successful implementation of any unmanned system we choose within known limitations. Our discussions, readings, and multimedia have focused on the ethics and laws surrounding unmanned systems, so this post will focus on a system that is already successfully operating within privacy, ethics, safety, and system control limits. I decided to go with small unmanned aerial systems (sUAS).

Over the last two weeks, I completed the Embry-Riddle Public Safety Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS) MOOC. This course focused on the basics of operating an sUAS, and how to do so both safely and responsibly. The successful implementation of sUAS into society, I believe, can be partially attributed to the FAA's rules that have been set forth to protect the public's privacy, ensure ethical and safe use, and give guidance to pilots should their sUAS lose control. Along with that comes the element of folks trusting that the pilots of sUAS are adhering to the rules, regulations, and guidelines put forth.

An sUAS hovers (NASA, 2019)
An sUAS hovers (NASA, 2019)

As was stated, successful implementation of sUAS into society has been entirely dependent on the operator's behaviors. A remotely piloted aircraft cannot break laws unless its operator tells it to do so, or if the system malfunctions and the pilot has lost control. Should the pilot lose control, it is up to the operator to follow FAA guidelines to correct the situation.

Privacy, Ethics, & Safety

Many commercially-available sUAS come with cameras. It is up to the pilot to decide not to violate a person's privacy!

In the course I took, we learned that the right to privacy is outlined by Article 11 of the American Convention on Human Rights which states:

  1. Everyone has the right to have his honor respected and his dignity recognized.
  2. No one may be the object of arbitrary or abusive interference with his private life, his family, his home, or his correspondence, or of unlawful attacks on his honor or reputation.
  3. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks (Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, 1969).

Privacy and ethics go hand-in-hand. In is unethical to record, photograph, or otherwise conduct surveillance on an individual outside of law enforcement operations when using a drone. Though the FAA has not put forth specific rules, they have put forth guidelines. Each state also has its own privacy laws regarding those who violate the right to privacy, often referred to as "peeping Toms". The FAA did, however, put forth a best practices advisory, stating:

"In the absence of a compelling need to do otherwise, or consent of the data subjects, UAS operators should avoid using UAS for the specific purpose of intentionally collecting covered data where the operator knows the data subject has a reasonable expectation of privacy (NTIA, n.d.)." Learn more here.

States also have privacy laws, so each sUAS operator is responsible for checking their local laws before conducting operations... or just avoid recording, photographing, or following individuals who have not given permission.

Drone Safety Infograph (Demaitre, 2018)
Drone Safety Infograph (Demaitre, 2018)

Speaking of safety, the FAA makes it clear that operating an sUAS safely is imperative. However, one would hope that the pilot's ethics would reflect the same sentiments with or without those rules. The FAA mandates:

  • The aircraft must weigh under 55 lbs with payload
  • Visual line-of-sight (VLOS) operations ONLY. This means the pilot must be able to see the aircraft at all times.
  • Pilots cannot operate over any person that is not part of their operation, under any covered structures, or inside a vehicle
  • UAS pilots must always yield to other aircraft
  • Pilots cannot fly their UAS over 400"
  • Only daytime operations are permitted: this includes 30 minutes after sunset and before sunrise
  • 3 miles of visibility, 500 feet clear of clouds at all times while operating
  • And More (USDOT, 2018)

All of these rules are put in place to ensure safe operations which directly ties into the ethical operation of sUAS. Again, it is always up to the pilot to make the decision to ethically and safely operate their sUAS. Local law enforcement is authorized to enforce these rules and local law.


Losing Control

The FAA has specifically put forth an In-Flight Emergency rule that states a pilot may deviate from any rule of the Part 107, so long as deviation is necessary to properly respond to the emergency. In the event this should happen, the pilot must submit a written report to the FAA should they request it. The pilot is also told to respond to emergencies while also minimizing risk and injury as best as they can (USDOT, 2016). Again, it is up to the pilot to make sure they respond to these situations as safely and ethically as possible!

So long as pilots make the decision to act in safe and ethical ways, being sure to follow protocol should they lose control, sUAS should continue to be an example of the successful implementation of unmanned systems into society.


Demaitre, E. (2018). UAS insert. Retrieved from

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (1969). American convention on human rights. Retrieved from

NASA (2019). Retrieved from

NTIA (n.d.). Voluntary best practices for UAS privacy, transparency, and accountability. Retrieved from

US Department of Transportation (USDOT) (2016). Advisory circular. Retrieved from

US Department of Transportation (USDOT) (2018). Law enforcement guidance for suspected unauthorized UAS operations. Retrieved from


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