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FAA warns of ‘a million drones under people’s Christmas trees’

FAA Part 107


Aaron Karp

A top FAA official said as many as one million small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) could be sold during the upcoming US holiday season.

“The talking point is that there will be a million dronesunder people’s Christmas trees this year,” FAA assistant administrator-policy, international affairs and environment Rich Swayze said, adding that he has heard the one-million figure “from several sources.”

Speaking at the Airlines for America (A4A) Commercial Aviation Industry Summit in Washington DC, Swayze said FAA is trying to get in front of the sales surge to inform the public about safety issues associated with small UAVs. “We’re trying to get out and educate people about potential dangers,” he said.

Swayze explained that FAA plans to send a representative to a pre-Christmas staff meeting at US retail giant Walmart to educate sales people selling small UAVs on how to inform consumers about operating UAVs safely. Walmart advertises 19 different “drones” online, ranging in price from $19.99 to $274.95. “A lot of people who don’t have a pilot background are operating these things in the airspace,” Swayze said.

Hawaiian Airlines president and CEO Mark Dunkerley, also speaking at the A4A conference, added, “From an operating perspective, [small UAVs are] a very serious issue and there’s considerable concern that it’s going to end in tears … It’s not just in and around airports where drones present a danger to the traveling public. There are many areas outside of five miles of an airport where a drone conflict could occur.”

US Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon), the ranking member on the House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said, “A lot of what pilots are seeing is irresponsible use of toys. The toys, in my opinion, should be set up so they can’t be sold unless they’re geo-fenced for altitude and perimeters.”

Swayze said one of the difficult aspects of developing regulations for UAVs is that there are so many different interests that need to be addressed. “I’ve been in DC for 15 years now working on policy and I’ve never seen so many divergent interests driving one topic,” he explained. “One day it’s safety concerns, the next day it’s ‘we’ve got to get these incorporated into the airspace as soon as possible,’ the next day it’s privacy concerns and then the next day it’s security—are these things going to be armed? So it’s really up and down.”

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