YES FROM EXPERTS IN THE FIELD
Donna A. Dulo is an
scientist, legal analyst
and writer. She is
editor of the book
Unmanned Aircraft in the
Critical Issues, Technology, and the Law
(American Bar Association, 2015; not
available at Costco;
DRONES ARE ONE of the greatest innovations to enter the skies since the advent
of the helicopter. Their use is transforming the field of aviation and making it accessible to all who wish to venture closer to the clouds. Yet, now is the time to step back
and evaluate the rapid pace of their integration into the national airspace. Safety,
security and privacy are concerns that require careful analysis and must not be overshadowed by the excitement and rapid technological advancement of these innovative aerial machines.
Historically, laws have lagged significantly behind the technologies they are
regulating, and in the world of aviation this has been more of the rule than the exception. It was almost 50 years after the Wright brothers’ flight that comprehensive safety
laws were established as a result of several catastrophic crashes and midair collisions
of airliners. The reactive nature of safety laws continued for many decades thereafter,
with scores of airliner crashes in the ’70s through the mid-’90s becoming the primary
motivation for stricter air safety laws. This fly-crash-legislate-fly approach cannot
become the model for the drone revolution.
Drones are aircraft that legally are differentiated from manned aircraft by only
one factor: They are flown without a human operator in or on the aircraft. The fact
that a pilot is not physically on board is significant, especially if the aircraft loses its
wireless tether or if the remote operator loses spatial or visual orientation. The drone
instantly transforms from an aircraft into an aerial hazard.
A drone flying into the engine of a manned aircraft can be catastrophic. The
solid batteries and materials of the drone fuselage can cause engine fans to splinter,
sending lethal shrapnel into the wing of the aircraft, which also houses the fuel
tanks. In the past year there have been several dozen airliner near misses with
drones, and the number of these incidents continues to rise. A drone crashing into
a moving vehicle can cause the startled driver to veer into oncoming traffic. A
drone can also cause grave bodily injury or even death as it falls onto an innocent
person on the ground. C
NO FROM EXPERTS IN THE FIELD
Timothy M. Ravich
is a board-certi;ed
professor in the
Department of Legal
Studies at the University of Central Florida.
He has written numerous articles and a book
on drone law, and
blogs at droning
TO BEST STIMULATE innovation, regulators should get out of the way of innovators. Consider a survey in 2003 in which scientists identified now widely accepted
medical and technological discoveries that lawmakers initially resisted: airplanes,
chlorine, X-rays and more. Unfortunately, with respect to unmanned aerial systems—UASs, or drones—lawmakers are again causing more problems than they are
solving at the outset.
Should the U.S. Postal
Service be privatized?
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) bans commercial drone operations,
unless a special exemption is given. Yet recreational users and hobbyists—who may
pose a greater danger than commercial operators—fly with far fewer regulatory burdens. While private operators can apply for an exemption for commercial drone use,
the distinction between hobby and commercial drones remains arbitrary, creating
red tape for responsible businesses without meaningfully addressing risks posed by
unscrupulous recreational drone users.
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Also, while regulators have raised alarms about drones nearly colliding with
passenger jets, the FAA has yet to undertake any methodical effort to assess the
actual risks of unmanned aircraft. The agency released a report of 650 “possible
encounters with unmanned aircraft,” between November 2014 and August 2015, but
this data, while great for grabbing headlines, is questionable. Most reported drone
encounters occurred above 3,000 feet—well above the 500-foot ceiling established
for commercial drones and the 400 feet recommended for model aircraft.
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Regulators unquestionably have the power to safeguard the nation’s skies. But, as
a matter of law, the FAA also has the obligation to promote air commerce. The
agency is not satisfying that so far, and in any case it should let the marketplace lead.
Manufacturers are self-incentivized to promote safety through customer support
and hardware and software solutions that already exist, such as ADS-B, sense-and-avoid and geo-fencing. Insurance and aviation laws also will discipline drone operators and encourage safe flying. C
Opinions expressed are those of the
individuals or organizations represented and are presented to foster
discussion. Costco and The Costco
Connection take no position on any
MARCH 2016 ;e Costco Connection 27