“ I’m dreaming of a drone Christmas ... ”
In historic calendars, we have B.C. and A.D. Suddenly we are confronted with an addendum to A.D. — the present After Drone epoch that finds us coping with the wide-ranging, good-and-evil applications of unmanned aircraft in our skies.
Back in B.D., Before Drones, when nobody was using them to spy on sunbathing neighbors, to eavesdrop on private moments in skyscrapers, to dangerously interfere with air traffic or crash into innocent bystanders — well, we were worried about more mundane stuff. On the other hand, drones have great potential in agriculture, fighting forest fires, capturing amazing video from breathtaking vantage points — and some lethal military missions, if that is your aim.
The once-cute Dennis the Menace Drones have reached awkward adolescence, and some fear we have raised a monster and unleashed it on a mostly unsuspecting world.
Among the 319 million Americans are an estimated 1 million drones hovering about. The Consumer Electronics Association thinks hobbyists will spend more than $100 million on 700,000 drones in the U.S. this year — many at Christmastime.
The reaction from the feds is to require recreational drone users to register their aircraft. A drone czar? Maybe so.
There is nothing cute or funny about drones flying into airport airspace or onto the lawn at the White House. It doesn’t take much of an imagination to turn their peaceful recreational flights into trajectories of terror. Though our Constitution covers a lot of territory, I am not sure the Founding Fathers anticipated atmospheric threats. There is nothing about the right to bear drones in a well-regulated public meadow — yet.
Technically and legally, drones are unmanned aircraft, and arguably their remote pilots are subject to liability or criminality if a flight causes harm or invades the privacy of airspace above a property, which in Idaho belongs to the owner. Flights “in aircraft” over such airspace are lawful. But even if a drone “trespasses” that airspace by day or night, how can this effectively be enforced when the pilot of the remote-controlled drone is nowhere to be found?
It must be said there are a few irresponsible idiots out there who will abuse drone demeanor. These are likely the same people who would flash a laser at an aircraft — temporarily blinding the pilot. Using lasers in such a way is now a felony.
So before we criticize any government initiatives to get in front of the drone matter, put yourself in charge for a minute and imagine being responsible for public safety and refereeing all of the harmless-to-hurtful drone activity out there.
Who is overreacting? The careless operators who forget the “responsibility” part of sending something into the skies, or the bureaucrats who just can’t stand it when people are having a little fun?
Here we are again at that intersection of “right to flight” and “government interference.” What is your solution to dealing with drones?
Robert Ehlert is the Statesman’s editorial page editor. Reach him at 377-6437 or follow @IDS_HelloIdaho.