Drones: Game or Threat?
It is becoming more familiar to see them flying above us, resembling a huge insect in shape and in sound: drones. These small aircrafts are still finding their place in our world, and while they certainly have many advantages, the lack of proper extensive legislation also poses several threats to everyone.
Being remotely piloted, they could be regarded as harmless, like remote-controlled car or plane toys that many of us had as children. But this is not so simple.
Regular citizens can buy these machines without any problems, as drones can be found easily in several physical shops, or online. If they weigh less than 20 kilos, then anyone can play with them in public spaces, like parks or beaches – as long as they don’t lose sight of the machine, or don’t crash them into anyone, which of course sometimes happens to less experienced people.
We have seen drones hovering above us in festivals and events with many people, where they are filming or taking pictures for artistic reasons. We have seen drones belonging to TV broadcasting or police teams, flying in order to reach areas which are inaccessible to any other means of transport or people, such as forest fires, to analyse the extent of the damage, or locate possible victims. We have seen Amazon make premium clients’ lives easier by offering a thirty-minute delivery service for some packages. We have seen drones making agriculture less energy-consuming. And, perhaps the best of all, there are ambulance drones that can reach emergencies quicker than regular ambulances, and save more lives – especially those related with heart conditions.
However, drones present not only a risk for privacy reasons, as they can film people without their knowledge or permission, but also for airplane security, and even terrorism.
In the past year, several incidents have been reported with drones and aircrafts in the more dangerous moments of take-off and landing. Only in the past month, for instance, the airports of Lisbon and Porto in Portugal have reported seven serious incidents where airplanes barely avoided crashing with one of these machines, which were flying much higher than the European legal limit of 150 metres in airplane circulation areas. Some of them were as high as 1200 metres up in the air, risking collision with commercial airplanes with hundreds of passengers.
Heathrow airport in London has had a few episodes of its own too, and Gatwick had to close a runaway altogether, diverting several flights, because of an unknown drone flying off limits. This is serious.
Do the individuals who own these drones not understand the dangers they are subjecting innocent people to? Do they not realize that they might be responsible for a very serious accident? What if the drone flies into one of the engines of a commercial airplane or private jet and causes an explosion and a plane crash? Or what if the drone is flying too high and falls from the sky, hitting someone? Accidents like that could be fatal. Many people who own drones clearly fail to grasp the risk, and it can be impossible to trace the devices back to them, unless they are caught, which makes this situation even more difficult. We have heard that terrorists are using drones for attacks, but is this it? Or is it only regular citizens not being aware of the consequences of their actions?
Legislation on drones is still evolving and being developed, as governments are still figuring out what it means to have drones around us for so many purposes. For instance, in the U.S. a mandatory registration system has been created with the Federal Aviation for anyone who wishes to fly a drone, being valid for 3 years. People who are caught flying drones and not complying to the rules (including flying the devices higher than the legal limit, or above crowded areas) can face prosecution.
Yet, too many people can fly drones and not respect the rules without being caught – hence, all these incidents that keep happening over and over again.
How can we make people more sensible to this? Writing about it and publicising this situation is one possible way of getting people’s attention to the actual risks, by underscoring the near-accidents that have been occurring too often lately, in addition to making more specific legislation regarding individual ownership of drones. For example, people who wish to buy a drone could be required to have flying lessons before taking the drones out on their own. Furthermore, there should be clear, serious legal consequences for those who disrespect the rules, so that they would not wish to break them so often. Not everyone should be able to get a drone and treat it as though it were merely a toy: it’s not.