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Sun, Aug. 18

Editorial: Drone regulation is on the horizon

I was in Costco recently and saw they're selling drones, aka quadcopters, for around $80 each. As a photography enthusiast, I have been thinking of buying one so I can get aerial shots of the beautiful scenery around Prescott. However, I think I'll hold off until the legalities of operating drones are ironed out.Up until just a couple of years ago, the only drones I ever heard of were male bees and the unmanned aircraft operated by the military. Now drones are everywhere (the quadcopters, not the bees, which are declining in number).Civilian-operated drones are so common now that they're causing problems and the federal government wants to crack down on them. According to an Oct. 19 Cronkite News Service story, the government's concern "comes amid growing reports of encounters between drones and other aircraft, with the Federal Aviation Administration reporting 764 such incidents - 23 of them in Arizona - from November to August."As the remote-controlled quadcopter phenomenon grows in popularity, many hobbyists are left wondering what laws regulate their operation. Quadcopters are such a new development that not many laws apply to them ... yet. According to an article by Timothy McDougal, a drone expert who writes for the website of B&H, a national retailer that sells them, "As far as the FAA goes, here is what I can tell you:"Don't fly a UAV within FAA controlled airspace without FAA approval - approval that you won't get."Don't use a UAV for commercial purposes without FAA approval - again, approval you won't get."Keep your aircraft within visual range and under complete observation at all times, and below 400 feet AGL (above ground level), regardless of the available BVR (Beyond Visual Range) systems."Most hobbyists attach cameras to their drones to get aerial shots of the world around them, but their enthusiasm sometimes causes serious problems:• In April 2014, a group of volunteers at Mt. Zion National Park in Utah watched as a drone flew over a herd of bighorn sheep, separating the adults from the young.• A woman in Seattle reported to police that she saw a drone hovering outside her high-rise window photographing her as she undressed.• In May of this year, the Secret Service detained a man who attempted to fly a drone over the White House.• In July, NPR reported, "Fire officials have had to call off several operations to drop water and flame retardant on wildfires because private drones were hovering in the air space, apparently shooting video footage of the fires."• A drone had a close call with an American Airlines flight descending toward Sky Harbor International Airport in August.These represent just a small sample of the cases of drone hobbyists raising security, privacy and safety issues.The Cronkite News Service story reports that the federal government has created a public-private task force that has until Nov. 20 to develop recommendations for a drone registration process. As Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx put it, "Finding the drone has not been as much of a problem as finding the person controlling the drone."Drones are here to stay and most hobbyists operate them in a responsible manner. However, requiring the registration of drones will help law-enforcement officials track down the irresponsible drone operators who have little or no regard for the safety or privacy of their fellow citizens. - Jim Painter, News EditorFollow Jim Painter on Facebook at FB.me/jimpainterprescott. Reach him at 928-445-3333, Ext. 2035, 928-642-0560 or jpainter@prescottaz.com.
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