As drones soar in popularity FAA issues new rules to keep skies safe

As drones soar in popularity FAA issues new rules to keep skies safe

High profile incidents involving drones and major airports have cast a negative light on technology that promises to transform the world around us.

The Federal Aviation Administration is changing its rules in an effort to reduce the chances of a mishap.

Warren Lavallee likes to fly his drone and he also likes to follow the rules. He uses his drone to capture spectacular pictures and expand his photography business. "We’ve been using it in weddings, taking pictures of the groups from above," explained the Worcester photographer.

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Lavallee worries about other pilots who might not be as serious as he is when is drone is airborne. "People can buy drones for maybe $20-$30 ...they’re not really interested in spending 20 to 40 hours learning all the regulations making sure they operate safely."

A number of high-profile incidents near major airports in places like London, Dublin, and Newark make the case that safety is still very much a work in progress, particularly as the number of drone operations soars.

The FAA has developed new rules for drone pilots which are in the middle of a 60-day comment period.

"The thing that really brought it out was the forest fires in California," said Lawrence Harman, co-director of the Geophysics Lab at Bridgewater State University. "People thought it was interesting to take pictures and they were getting in the way of aircraft trying to kill those fires."

Something like that will earn a violator a $20,000 fine under the new regulations. Drones will also need to be marked better and pilots will be required to provide identification to any law enforcement official.

Sitting in a lab on the campus where the world’s second drone was built, Harman explained why he thinks the sky is the limit for how drones will help businesses and improve public safety.

"There are many people’s lives who are going to be saved because the search and rescue people are using them right now. There are many firemen who know how to use these," explained Harman. "What they are able to do is see through the smoke. It sees the hot spots. It sees the people inside."

Harman added that both the real estate industry and construction companies are finding drones very useful.

"We have to get through this thing where we are always looking at boys behaving badly, and say, how can we use this tool so that we are really helping society," said Harman.

The recent drone sightings near airports in Great Britain prompted new rules which allow authorities to seize and search drones more easily and to fine operators who don’t properly register their drones.

Some people are calling for harsher penalties in the United States, as well as the for the development of drone detection or counter drone systems to be installed near airports.