Today, the greatest threat to your safety while airborne does not come from unruly turbulence or a determined terrorist, but a bored drone enthusiast on the ground. While drones may seem harmless, the small, metal quadcopters could easily be swallowed up by a plane’s engine with catastrophic consequences. In 2015, the Federal Aviation Administration received over 700 pilot-reported sightings of drones, of which over 50 occurred at LaGuardia Airport or John F. Kennedy International Airport. The mounting pressure to regulate the sale of the readily available objects — pretty much anyone can buy one off Amazon for less than $500 — led the FAA and Department of Transportation to announce Monday that they were forming a task force to explore methods of drone registration to be implemented by the holiday season, a peak time for new sales.
Given the increasing likelihood of a drone-related accident in the near future, this move, though long overdue, is the right way to handle the current frenzy. The FAA has a notoriously poor reputation when it comes to instituting new policies promptly but in this case especially, we cannot afford to rely on luck to keep our skies safe any longer. The FAA’s current pitiful rules regarding model unmanned aircraft merely state that they cannot be flown higher than 400 feet or within 5 miles of an airport, along with a few other vague cautions. These rules, in combination with the near impossible task of locating perpetrators, hardly discourage hobbyists from flying their machines in prohibited areas.
Many, including members of Congress, have expressed uncertainty in the ability of government regulation. They argue that the serial numbers that would be implemented as the method of registration could be scratched off by owners or that individually constructed drones would not be subject to the same registration process. Because of these and many other concerns, the FAA is right to begin the changes with an exploratory team. Still, the agency must move swiftly in order to prevent the public scorn that would undeniably result from even a minor drone incident.
Drone technology is a venture into the future, transforming many industries, including shipping and filmmaking. Many have benefited from this advancement; whether it be from the cinematographic uses or from testing of an Amazon drone delivery service, the possibilities are endless. However, regulations must keep up with the times, and too many passenger aircraft are woefully unprotected from overly eager drone hobbyists today. Considering the irritatingly exhaustive measures found at airport security and the resources allocated for it, a testament to our concern for the safety of flights, it is simply foolish that we let such a great threat go so unrestricted. It is essential that the FAA and DOT act quickly and effectively to combat the growing risk posed by drones today.
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Email Akshay Prabhushankar at [email protected]