Editorial: Make real penalty for drone violations

  • Monday, January 16, 2017 8:08am
  • Opinion

By The Herald Editorial Board

Another day, another landmark hit by a drone. Ho-hum. If we didn’t get overly concerned when a woman was hit in the head and knocked unconscious by a drone during the 2015 annual Pride Parade in Seattle, a report complete with video from drone hitting the Space Needle — again — won’t cause a fuss.

State and federal laws already prohibit what happened, (legislators this session are focused on how to limit drones on private property) but perhaps the punishment isn’t tough enough, since incidents keep happening.

The most recent incident at the Space Needle happened at 2 p.m. on New Year’s Eve, as pyrotechnicians were preparing for the fireworks display later that night. Footage from the drone shows some panoramic views, then it speeds up and crashes into the roof of the Needle, where the workers are setting up the fireworks. So, as they say, it could have been much worse. Seattle Police are investigating and have alerted the Federal Aviation Administration.

If a drone is a little more than a half-pound, federal law requires it be registered with the FAA, making it easier to track down scofflaws. Approximately 600,000 people have registered in the agency’s online system that began last year. On the other hand, about a 2.8 million drones were sold in 2016, about 1.2 million over the holidays, NBC News reported. But there’s no breakdown on how many of those require registration.

Seattle Police spokesman Sgt. Sean Whitcomb told the Seattle Times the New Years Eve crash marks a “proliferation” of drone incidents, and the third time the Space Needle has been hit. Federal law requires a 400-foot ceiling for drones; the Space Needle roof is 575 feet high. Drones are not to be flown near airports, over groups of people, near sporting events, near emergencies such as fires, and not while the pilot is intoxicated, GeekWire reported. Additionally, the FAA forbids, “No careless or reckless operations,” which pretty much covers everything.

Additionally, the prohibition against flying drones “over groups of people” also covers just about every violation that has ever occurred. Of course people are standing below the Space Needle; just as people are often on the roof. The law is just common sense; something, unfortunately, many drone pilots seem to be sorely lacking.

The person thought responsible for striking the Pride Parade goer with a drone has been charged with reckless endangerment, the Seattle Times reported.

The FAA receives more than 100 reports a month from pilots who complain that drones have flown too close to their aircraft, an agency spokesman said. Drones have injured people and caused power disruptions, NBC reported.

Those pilot drones dangerously seem akin to all those distracted drivers who insist that other people are the problem. Despite what drone enthusiasts claim, as citizens of the United States, we don’t have an inherent right to fly dangerous objects anywhere we desire. It’s another case of technology, specifically the selling of it, before regulations are in place.

It’s necessary to make the penalties for drone airspace violations/collisions carry real consequences. It might also make sense to require a pilot license of some type, determined by a test, because these are not toys. It would also make sense to require companies to equip their drones them with a signal that lets pilots know when they have hit the 400 foot ceiling for flying, and to not go higher, lest they break the law, and crash into the Space Needle.

Correction: An earlier version of this editorial gave an incorrect weight requirement for drones that must be registered. Drones weighing between .55 pounds and 55 pounds can be registered online with the FAA.

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