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Drones and Safety-The FAA Addresses Growing Civilian Use

By Greg Webb, November 14, 2014

Drones.  Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).  They are oddly fascinating, reminiscent of early sci-fi movies. But they are not all fun and games. Last year a 19 year old was killed in a Brooklyn park when he lost control of his drone helicopter and the whirling blades sliced off the top of his head. These cute little flying creatures sport large wingspans and dangerously sharp blades, among other potential, even more lethal, dangers.

Since August there have been over a half-dozen sightings of aerial drones at college and NFL football games. A camera-equipped drone provides a great aerial shot of the action on the field, very much like the big commercial blimps. But they are potentially dangerous and the FAA and aviation safety experts want us to understand the hazards of flying small drones in crowded public areas, especially when flown by amateurs.

On October 27, the FAA issued an update to its existing ban on airplane flights over open-air stadiums with 30,000 or more spectators by extending the prohibition to include “unmanned aircraft and remote controlled aircraft.”  The warning was issued as a reminder, in the wake of drone sightings at an NFL preseason game, The U.S. Open in New York and the Cheyenne Frontier Days rodeo in Wyoming, to name a few.

In 2012, Congress passed a law ordering the FAA to open up the nation’s skies to drones of all sizes, adding that there should be safety standards. Drones are now being used by the movie industry purposes, recreational remote control enthusiasts, media outlets, and as training tools in athletics. The rise in drone use has been accompanied with accidents and rising concerns, as I noted in an article earlier this year, Drones in U.S. Airspace.

Under the current rules, recreational drones are allowed below 400 feet and at a certain distance from airports.  Guidelines and rules for small venue sporting events and other public gatherings should be developed, which the FAA is working on.  Unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, are likely a wave of the future.  For those of us who remember The Jetsons, perhaps we are not too far away from that type of society.  We are likely not far away from wide-spread commercial use of drones, which, in many ways, presents a new frontier for America.  One question is, will this new frontier resemble The Wild West, or something a little more orderly?

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