With her story “Spies in the Skies,” in Yachts International magazine, writer Kim Kavin raised the flag over some of the less-savory issues surrounding the rapid proliferation of civilian drones. “…They represent a growing threat to our privacy and our safety as we seek the escape and serenity yachting affords,” she wrote.
The takeaway from the article is that while we love the images they gather, when in the wrong hands, the machines and their harvest can be a nuisance—or worse. Further: the FAA, which is responsible for maintaining order and safety in America’s airspace, is behind the curve establishing sensible rules for their operation.
A high-profile string of close encounters between drones and airliners this year has blasted the drone issue onto front pages all over the country, including my own newspaper, which ran a story under the passively constructed headline: “Drones’ promises, problems are weighed; privacy and safety are two major issues.”
The subheadline of Yachts International's story was “Drones harvest incredible photos and video, but are they invading our privacy and threatening our safety?” The newspaper story, by a local business reporter, essentially positions the debate in the same way, considering the broad range of benefits drones offer against the fears of invasion of privacy and their potential for catastrophic collisions with airliners. While the safety issue in our story was focused more on the specter of a drone crashing into a crowded yacht cockpit or sailboat rigging, the airliner scenario is far more grave.
The story cites new proposed FAA rules, possibly to be released before the end of the year. One possibility is that the agency will require drone operators to obtain pilot’s licenses. Given their proliferation, that would be interesting, eh? Who would administer and enforce that rule? State governments and Congress are picking up the torch as well, but it appears there is some opposition to strong regulations. One fear is that other countries with less stringent laws and rules, will gain a technological edge and economic edge over us. Perhaps true, but when airliners are in the mix, bigger issues are at stake. In response to public records requests, the story says, the FAA released statistics showing pilots seeing drones almost daily since June 1. From those statistics, TheWashington Post calculated 25 near misses during the period. I don’t know about you, but that makes me a little nervous.
Sorry for the choice of words, but for all the potential drones have for good, it would only take one collision with an aircraft to make the issue explode. In addition to potentially causing tragedy, it would really bring down the wrath of Washington on the fledgling industry. No one relishes the thought of government expanding its regulatory reach unless it’s absolutely necessary to protect us, but in this case, maybe it’s time to embrace the issue head-on. I fly frequently and I must say; my life is far more important to me that my privacy or making it convenient for a film company to save some helicopter charter fees.