You're Not Helping

By Patrick C. Miller | September 24, 2014

Scarcely a day goes by that I don’t see a news item about someone doing something with an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that makes me shake my head.

From crashing into a scenic wonder at a national park—where UAVs are banned—to flying in the traffic pattern of busy airports to near-collisions with law enforcement helicopters to interfering with fighting wildfires, such incidents have become too common.

Even worse, they fall into the “you’re not helping” category when it comes to adopting laws and regulations which will allow UAS to be safely integrated into the national airspace in a timely manner.

When the public is subjected to a daily bombardment of such stories, people become alarmed and politicians respond with solutions—whether needed or not. This makes the challenge of regulating UAS on a national scale that much more difficult.

A few months ago, I attended a thoughtful, interesting and informative panel discussion on UAS law and ethics. I was surprised to hear an American Civil Liberties Union attorney and a law enforcement officer agree on most issues related to UAS safety and privacy.

In general, the panelists felt that cities and states already have laws in the books covering privacy and safety which can easily be applied to most scenarios involving UAVs. They didn’t believe a massive reinvention of the wheel was necessary simply because of a new technology.

So there’s hope that reason might prevail in the quest to adopt laws and regulations for UAS technology, and perhaps the process might not be as problematic as feared.

On the other hand, the number of UAV incidents involving a lack of common sense serve only to fuel the public perception that when it comes to UAS, more laws and regulations are better. Proponents and users of the technology must keep in mind that their actions influence the ongoing debate.