Earlier this month, a Skylife medical helicopter narrowly avoided a collision with a hobbyist’s drone outside Fresno Yosemite International Airport. No one was injured, but the potential for disaster is what’s making officials uncomfortable. According to the FAA, this is the latest of over 650 reports of illegal drone operation this year- already more than double the 238 sightings in all of 2014.
Drones are becoming more pervasive every year and neither the hobbyists nor the FAA have been able to agree on finite, enforceable standards to govern this growing interest. While the FAA has partnered with several consumer rights organizations in their Know Before You Fly campaign, the organization has yet to publish much more than broad guidelines regarding unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). While there are some laws in place, mostly regarding places like airports and military installations, this is still very much the “Wild West” for drone hobbyists.
The problems are growing faster than the solutions. On August 18th, a fleet of helicopters combating a forest fire in British Columbia, Canada was grounded for more than five hours when an unidentified drone entered their airspace. Border authorities have apprehended two teenagers in Southern California for trafficking 12 kilos of heroin from Mexico with a drone. Neither the FAA, nor the DEA nor the Civil Aviation Branch of Transport Canada has been able to effectively respond to this international problem, but regulation is certainly coming, likely at the manufacture and distribution level.
When they do arrive, you can expect these regulations to meet staunch opposition. Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, has already promised that seeing delivery drones will some day “be as common as seeing a mail truck.” Drone racing is also a growing sport, with several companies such as RSE Ventures and ESPN already investing in what they see as the next big competition sport. The regulating bodies are already in for a fight without even mentioning the legion of private hobbyists who would be impacted by new laws.
As it stands, the landscape is of drone ownership and operation is set to change dramatically and it’s important to know the laws regarding drones, as murky as they may be.