It is legal to fly personal drones within the United States, however, the Federal government now requires most of them to be registered and include the name of the owner. This requirement is a result of the growing number of incidents and close calls which are posing safety risks. Flying drones are growing in popularity and the pilot sightings of drones more than doubled in just one year. These sightings occurred near passenger planes, over major sporting events, and even over wildfire operations. At one point, wildfire operations had to ground their firefighting aircraft because of possible drone interference.
Under the new guidelines, toys and small drones which fly below 200 feet do not have to be registered. It is both the affordability and access to drones (correction) which worry the FAA. The number of drone sales is escalating annually, with more than a million sold in 2015. There were more than 700,000 sold over the past holiday season alone.
With so many drones in the air, it is imperative that the operators comply with safety guidelines. The FAA’s goal is to ensure drones which might pose a safety risk are registered, but not to force a prohibitive burden on those who fly for purely recreational or educational reasons. There are drone operators who have been flying drones for years and who have never posed a safety risk to their community.
Unfortunately, there are others who seem to fly their drones with no concern for the possible repercussions. Every month, the FAA receives more than 100 complaints from pilots who observed drones flying near airports and planes. This number used to be just a few each month. The FAA is concerned about the implications of a drone weighing a few pounds being sucked into the engine of an airplane or smashing into the windshield.
Additionally, there have been drone crashes in crowded areas, such as sports arenas and it has been almost impossible to find the operators. Requiring registration will hopefully provide law enforcement officials some information on who owns these drones. The FAA is also studying technology which can help locate drone operators who are flying their drones illegally near airports. The technology tracks the radio signals that are used to operate the drones.
Drones are currently used by law enforcement for surveillance and by manufacturers to monitor equipment and facilities. Some companies, Amazon being one of the most notable, are looking at ways to incorporate drones into their delivery mechanisms. With the growth of personal drones and the difficulty controlling where they fly, privacy concerns are all too real. How does the privacy of an individual weigh against the freedom of another to fly their personal drone anywhere they want. If it flies above another’s property and observes certain activities, is that a violation of one person’s rights? These are important questions which must be answered quickly before someone who does not like a drone flying over their backyard shoots it out of the sky.