The demand for recreational drones grew shockingly fast this year, catching much of the country unaware — and unprepared. Once the price for a camera-equipped quadcopter dropped below $100, the aerial robots started flying off the shelves. Seemingly overnight, every major retailer had a drone model for sale. Even Macy’s.
The allure of recreational drones (formally known as unmanned aircraft systems) is that they use sophisticated technology that requires little or no training to operate. Not surprisingly, as sales climbed, so did the reports of mishaps and disruption. Out of control personal drones crashed into things and people — including a baby girl in a stroller who was hit by a 6-pound drone in September while her mother pushed her along a Pasadena street. In the U.S., amateur operators blundered into restricted airspace with terrifying regularity, coming too close to passenger airplanes and disrupting aerial firefighting operations. In October, a drone hit power lines in West Hollywood, knocking out power to hundreds of people.
Local, state and federal authorities have responded with regulations aimed at keeping drones from being a dangerous nuisance. It’s good they are now paying attention. About 400,000 drones are expected to be sold in the U.S. this holiday season, more than half of all the drones that will be sold all year. Next year is expected to be an even bigger one for recreational drone sales.
That’s reason enough for regulation, but unmanned aircraft technology is not a fad that will cool off once every household has a personal drone parked in the garage. Businesses are dying to use drones and will do so in a big way as soon as the Federal Aviation Administration lifts its blanket ban on commercial drone use and releases new rules next year. Currently, the FAA allows such uses only if the drone operator has a special permit. About 2,500 of those permits have been issued; tellingly, all but a few of them have been issued this year.