Dangers Drone On

The next wave of technology—robotic drones—is quickly descending upon us. These devices promise to revolutionize fields as diverse as agriculture and retailing. But while both the hype cycle and the actual payoffs from drones are only beginning to take off, the dangers are becoming glaringly apparent.

The Washington Post recently reported that nearly 700 small drones have disrupted air traffic across the United States this year. Worse, some of these drone aircraft have penetrated guarded air space, according to FAA reports that the newspaper obtained.

Obviously, this is all a huge disaster waiting to happen. If a commercial plane sucks a drone into an engine, it could crash. At the very least, the plane could be severely damaged, and a lot of people could wind up very, very scared.

These events have occurred at airports across the country and they are taking place at greater frequently. For example, a couple of weeks ago, a pilot for a JetBlue flight landing at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) spotted a drone right next to the plane’s wing.

I’m not sure what kind of blockhead intentionally or inadvertently flies a drone next to an airport, but, as Horace Greely once said, “Common sense is very uncommon.”

Yet, airports aren’t the only places where drones represent a risk to aircraft. In July, firefighters in California encountered a civilian drone hovering over the flames of a huge wildfire. Sheriffs had to ask the owner of the drone to stop flying it because it was in the flight path of low-flying aircraft attempting to make water drops. The owner of the quadcopter was operating the drone simply to check out the fire for entertainment purposes.

It’s becoming apparent that airports, military bases and other facilities will require jamming devices or some type of geofencing system in the near future. U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer from New York has proposed that drone manufacturers install software to prevent the devices from flying near airports.

Perhaps firefighters or emergency crews will require temporary blocking systems that can be set up and taken down on demand. The Secret Service might also be interested in such technology, as its agents recently spotted a drone hovering near the president while he was playing golf in Florida.

One thing is already clear: We need some clear standards, rules and technology protocols that keep drones under control. Let’s hope recreational drone manufacturers agree. The last thing we need is chaos—or a disaster—in the skies.