Balancing a drone act |

Balancing a drone act

Jack Barnwell

Drones are an awesome technology. That’s been apparent since I first started reporting on them back in 2012 while working at The Daily Independent in Ridgecrest.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) had been given a mandate to create procedures to integrate the little flying devices into civilian airspace by the end of 2015. A think tank at Inyokern Airport (IYK) put its name in the hat for an FAA test site designation along with dozens of other applicants. New technologies were being developed to help integration.

Fast forward to this year, and several leaps and bounds have occurred. Companies have been granted research opportunities, including Amazon to test its Prime Air models and media companies to see how well it can be used for news coverage.

Having covered the small industry in Ridgecrest, I understand the potential the technology has once it’s integrated into mainstream use. Search and rescue agencies, agriculture and utility companies, even media outlets all can benefit from the applications.

But use of the technology must be balanced and regulated. This is apparent especially after a June 24 drone incident forced fire agencies to dump two planeloads of fire retardant and divert third one to the Washington Fire south of Markleeville.

The Los Angeles Times reported that a civilian hobby drone flown at 11,000 feet had created an unsafe flight area that could have disrupted the planes’ mission, jeopardized the pilots lives and the people on the ground. The diverted planes are expected to have cost between $10,000 and $15,000.

The FAA has established clear guidelines for the use of drones, including a 400-foot above ground level flight ceiling and be within visual range at all times. Drones also can’t be flown in restricted airspace, something the area around the Lake Fire had been temporarily designated.

U.S. Forest Service Chon Bribiescas told The LA Times on June 24 that the drone pilots likely didn’t know what they were doing.

For a technology that can present so much opportunity and economic possibilities, drones also present a serious liability for those who don’t know how to properly use them.

Arguments have been made to highly regulate their use, and many states have already introduced or passed legislation to do so. And then there’s the crazy, and ultimately rejected, proposal in Deer Trail, Colo. to permit people to shoot drones down.

I have a healthy respect for the technology, especially all the potential benefits and cost savings it can bring to commercial industries. But I also believe there needs to be some sort of limit to who can operate drones, or at least some level of training before you go out and fly it Willy-nilly over areas like the Lake Fire.

A few people’s unwise decisions can often jeopardize people’s lives and send progress made on regulations and process back a half-dozen steps.

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