Unmanned aircraft: hazardous or helpful?

Photo by Jessica Crawford

A commercially manufactured radio-controlled quadcopter (left) and a home-built drone, both able to equip cameras for filming capabilities.

It’s a bird… it’s a plane… no, it’s a drone.

Drones started out as “unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs)” for dangerous military missions.

But lately, this remote control device has been adopted by hobbyists, real estate agents, search and rescue teams and filmmakers who need shots with a birds-eye view.

Today drones are the most advanced equipment in the field of aeronautics, robotics and electronics.

These aerial vehicles come in a variety of sizes, shapes and functions and can be controlled by either remote or ground control systems.

UAVs can loiter over a specific area for extended periods of time, allowing them to collect information. They’re relatively small, quiet, and capable of flying at high enough altitudes to avoid detection.

Drones have been part of major efforts to prevent terrorist attacks and capture important Taliban leaders as well as surveillance of the infamous Osama Bin Laden.

However, as drone technology becomes more widespread, its popularity has triggered growing concerns over safety and privacy.

The result is a recent set of proposed regulations by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for small commercial drones.

The FAA sets certain standards for operator certification. Under the proposed rules, operators would be required to pass an FAA-approved test and be vetted by the Transportation Security Administration.

They would also be required to obtain an unmanned aircraft system (UAS) operator certificate with a small UAS rating and be at least 17 years old.

The proposed rules would allow operators to fly their vehicles to a maximum altitude of 500 feet and also set the weight limit for the aircraft at 55 pounds.

In Hawai‘i, several bills have been introduced at the state Legislature to also help regulate the use of drones.

The most recent is Senate Bill 579, which has already died for this session.

The bill prohibited the use of unmanned aircrafts, except by law enforcement agencies, but exempted the use of model aircrafts for commercial, hobby, or recreational purposes.

The bill required all law enforcement agencies using unmanned aircrafts and the courts to report on their activities.

A drone enthusiast who wishes to remain anonymous said the federal government and the FAA sends potential drone pilots in circles regarding regulations, to deter them from legally using their drones.

After Ka ‘Ohana called the Transportation Security Adminstration (TSA) about drone policies, no one seemd to know for certain what regulations existed or were being proposed.

One TSA representative even stated, “We are not involved in drone regulation or operations at all.”

Voters seem to be split down the middle on how they feel about drones.

Some are afraid for their privacy; others say they don’t mind them. Only time will tell what the future holds for drones and the policies being proposed for them.

by Andrew Drake, Ka ‘Ohana Staff Reporter