The drone community needs to stand together to help shape legislation – and public opinion.
The following is a guest post from John Saginario: FPV flyer, writer and host of the Wild Flyers podcast.
To a disturbingly large percentage of the population, the term “drone” is a four-letter word. You need only read the ongoing media coverage of reported airport close-calls grounding flights,angry neighbors pointing shotguns at the sky, and even innocent bystanders getting hurt, to understand why these powerful and sophisticated devices elicit a lot of fear and apprehension in the non-flying public.
The issue the multirotor community is grappling with is not new, even though the technology is. People are inherently fearful of things they don’t understand or can’t really control, and the mass media tends to feed the very hysteria that leads to reactionary decisions by homeowners and lawmakers alike.
The Federal Aviation Administration, to its credit and to the credit of organizations like the Academy of Model Aeronautics, has taken a more measured approach. Last year the FAA, through Congress, repealed the former Special Rule for Model Aircraft which – until then – had kept the agency just out of arm’s reach of the model aviation hobby in all its forms. They’ve enacted only a small handful of common sense rule changes, such as requiring identification numbers be placed in obvious locations, and limiting where and how high pilots can fly.
But the times, they are a changin’ – and I don’t think anybody who flies a drone today can argue there is an obvious need for some sort of clear governance. Of course, the devil’s in the details and the desired level of that involvement changes depending on whom you ask.
One thing’s clear: if hobbyists and commercial interests — all drone pilots, no matter the craft or vocation — do not come together to help shape the coming legislation and affect positively the perception of drones in the public eye, we all lose.
You think some homeowners are wary now when a DJI Mavic buzzes past their property? What are they going to do when a swarm of Amazon drones fly into the neighborhood carrying boxes filled with earbuds and dog-paw-washing gizmos? Or when a Part 107 pilot who waited months for clearance to fly wanders a bit too close to their favorite hunting spot?
It’s the Wild West with WiFi out there right now. A strong argument can be made that the pace and scale of innovation we’ve seen so far has come despite regulation efforts. But that’s not sustainable, it won’t last forever.
As multirotors become more ubiquitous — really, with each passing Black Friday sale — the problem continues to grow. It’s clear the drone community as a whole — hobbyists and commercial pilots alike — needs to come together to help frame the discussion. The public needs to understand most drones are not heat-seeking-missile-machines slinging death from above, but versatile and enjoyable tools that can help everyone. They assist in dangerous rescue missions, restore power to places cut off from civilization, and can give us an unparalleled view of a destructive storm. They’re also a lot of fun to fly.
But until we all come together, we’ll remain at the mercy of the Court of Public Opinion. Perhaps our benevolent leaders in the Government will see fit to protect all of our interests and put the fearful public at ease with sensible precautions, thoughtful laws that empower innovation instead of hinder it, and encourage folks to enjoy this fun sport instead of regulating it into obscurity.
It won’t happen if we sit on the sidelines, staring into our screens and goggles, assuming somebody else will take care of it. They won’t. We must. So what are we going to do first?
John Saginario is the host of the Wild Flyers Podcast (www.soundcloud.com/wild-
Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
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