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It's a Bird, It's a Plane, No, It's . . . a Drone?

Written By: Christine Dantz

Its official, a Federal judge gave the green light on commercial drone use in the U.S., and for now, regulations are light. Look in the sky, it's a bird, it's a plane, no, it's an Unmanned Air Vehicle (UAV), most commonly referred to as a "Drone."

Who Let the Drones Out?

The decision by a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Administrative Law Judge, in the complaint filed by the FAA against Raphael Pirker on March 6, 2014, let the drones out.

  • FAA Administrator Michael P. Huerta petitioned the federal agency to issue a fine for $10,000 for the commercial use of a drone, which the FAA views as a violation of its regulations.
  • According to the NTSB, the FAA hasn't issued any regulations about the use of drones commercial or recreational, therefore, cannot attempt to enforce the non-existent regulations.
  • In 2012, Congress directed the FAA to complete safety regulations for drones by 2015.
  • The FAA is appealing the decision.

International Drones

Not all drones are armed, but several countries protect their borders with armed drones. Along with the U.S., China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Iran, Israel, Russia, Turkey, and the UK use the armed drones. Israel owns, operates, and can deploy the largest fleet of armed, military drones in the world. However, as more governments use the UAVs, international holdings will increase.

  • A report released by the Department of Defense (DOD) in 2012 listed 75 countries using drone technology
    • Leading the sales of armed UAVs is the U.S. Military
    • Recent headlines revealed the U.S. Navy is testing a system purchased by the Australian government for $2.7 billion
    • In September of 2012, the Pentagon released a list of 66 countries approved to purchase U.S. made drones
  • Drone use in different countries isn't about defense and military
    • Japanese officials have allowed UAVs to dust crops for over three decades.
    • South Korea's been using the Yamaha Motor Company's RMAX Helicopter Drones to spray crops for five years
    • Australia approved the crop sprayers in 2012
    • Federal regulations prevent U.S. farmers from using the more efficient and safer UAVs to spray crops

Legal Complications

At the beginning of March 2014, breaking news changed when Brian Wilson used a small camera drone to capture footage at the scene of a building explosion in Harlem, NY. Earlier in 2014, a CBS affiliate station in Connecticut used a drone to photograph the scene of a fatal car accident. The FAA is reviewing the incident not only because of privacy issues, but use of an UAV in an active crime scene is a violation of federal regulations.

Associations for journalists, media ethics, as well as educational institutions and media outlets don't have any official regulations about the use of drones in news reporting. Without detailed guidelines from the FAA, media organizations won't be able to finalize their own ethical guidelines.

Public Safety

One of the major concerns with the use of drones is radar. With no system in place to track all flight plans, it's too dangerous to have drones flying around. However, other countries and the DOD have solved this issue. The U.S. Navy announced a plan to build a control center for a fleet of patrol UAVs in Jacksonville, Fla.; this is one of a few centers already in operation. The FAA needs to follow the DOD's example.

  • SkyJack-Part of the not-so-accepted (by the public) issues that arise over the use of drones. This is a software program created by Samy Kamkar, a convicted hacker that hijacks UAVs
  • The U.S. Navy is demonstrating an anti-drone laser during the summer of 2014; ship-mounted lasers capable of destroying surveillance drones and disable swarming speedboats; the smaller boats are a military tactic used against large naval ships that are slower and harder to maneuver

On the less sinister side of safety matters, technical and other issues that can cause a drone to crash is a big concern with the rise in the unmanned air traffic. Heavy objects falling out of the sky have the potential to cause a lot of damage.

The FAA needs to speed up its plan-of-action to regulate UAV traffic, across the country, to ensure public safety. Because the drones are already in the air, it's too late to continue this "dragging of feet" on such an important subject.

Be sure to watch for upcoming articles focusing on "Drones."

See also Part 2 of our Drone Series....Bring on the Drones

See also Part 3 of our Drone Series....The Many Shapes, Weights, and Sizes of Drones


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