On the lookout for drones in Sun Valley

As executives and other bigwigs gather for the annual Allen & Co. conference, security personnel look to the skies.

BLOOMBERG NEWSJuly 10, 2014 

It's generally illegal to fly commercial drones in the U.S., but their use is increasing as federal aviation regulations are frequently flouted.

MARK LENNIHAN — AP

Security personnel charged with keeping reporters away from the billionaires descending upon Sun Valley this week are now on the lookout for another threat: drones.

Event staff are watching the skies for unmanned aerial vehicles that could photograph, harass or harm attendees at the annual Allen & Co. gathering of business executives, according to two people familiar with the plans who asked not to be named.

Though scouts have monitored for remote-controlled drones at previous Sun Valley retreats, they're more prevalent this year as the flying gizmos become increasingly commonplace, said one of the people, a security official who sought anonymity because the measures are private.

Sun Valley draws some of the biggest names in technology and media. This year's guest list includes Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Amazon's Jeff Bezos and Google's Eric Schmidt, all of whose companies have been investing in drone technology. Twitter's Dick Costolo, LinkedIn's Jeff Weiner, AOL's Tim Armstrong and Greylock Partners venture capitalist Reid Hoffman were spotted Tuesday.

Reporters and photographers are behind velvet ropes trying to get a glimpse of the billionaires and engage them in conversation. It's the security company's job to prevent the press or other event crashers from getting in by land or air.

Jack Sibbach, director of public relations at Sun Valley Resort, referred inquiries to MSA Security, which was hired for the event. A spokesman for MSA declined to comment. Herb Allen III, Allen & Co.'s president and CEO, didn't respond to a phone message left at his New York office.

Photographs of moguls are in high demand from some news agencies. As tempting as it might be to send a camera-equipped mini-copter into the event, commercial use of drones is prohibited in the U.S., according to Les Dorr, a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration.

There are exceptions for devices flown by licensed pilots who receive prior authorization from regulators. The administration is working on rules, which could come out this year, that would relax restrictions for drones weighing less than 55 pounds.

"You cannot operate any aircraft in a way that endangers the safety of people and property on the ground," Dorr said in a phone interview. "If you're buzzing over people, we could take enforcement action."

Sun Valley police aren't focused on drone prevention, Assistant Police Chief Michael Crawford said. If a property owner complains about a drone, he said police would "go and try to talk to the person who was operating it."

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