How will Aviation mandate the existence of Drones?

Terminator, iRobot, Eagle Eye, The Day The Earth Stood Still, Ex-Machina, Transformers…the list goes on and on into pop culture displaying our fear of robots and how they will take over life as we know it in the future. Well folks, the future is here, and instead of hyper-intelligent humanlike machines, the robots we are starting to see almost daily are flight adept drones.

By experiencing an extreme level of hyper-growth in a continually inflating industry, drones have become the answer to defense, filmmaking, intelligence, transportation, recreation, photography, delivery, and even on down to Christmas gifts. They’re even starting to take care of our daily chores like delivering groceries and bringing by the mail; who knows, maybe they will start developing drones that will take the dog out for a walk. Unlike the way Hollywood loves to portray technology, drones are bringing a revolutionary advancement to society and helping make our lives easier. The only drones we have to fear are the ones from Audi commercials.

Even though we encourage this industry to continue to innovate and bring us the new technological advancements, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take a few precautions in the process. We don’t expect the drones to become self aware and turn on humanity, but keeping people safe in the air and on the ground is becoming a concern.

Eighteen months ago the Federal Aviation Administration took a step towards air traffic control by opening a registry for all drones flown in the United States. In just a year and a half, over 850,000 drones were logged with the registry continuing to grow at an alarming rate. In contrast, the FAA has an aircraft registry that took one hundred years to reach 320,000 logged aircraft. This rate of growth doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon and people from the FAA and aircraft regulation industries across the globe such as the European Aviation Safety Agency are warning that the safety risks of drone operations are being severely underestimated and deserve immediate attention.

While drones have yet to harm people on the ground like Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds”, there have been a few recorded “close calls” where drones flew so close to commercial aircraft that pilots could tell what color they were. Dirk Polloczek, the President of the European Cockpit Association stated that “drones are such an appealing technology that many of the drone users are tempted to use them to the limits – or even beyond. That means to the technical, legal and safety limits. We’ve seen, for example, an increase in hacks and modifications in order to extend the drone’s flight distance. We’ve also seen drones flying around airports and runways – which are strict “no-drone zones” – and despite warnings that this is prohibited and dangerous. And we’ve seen a worrying increase in near-misses between manned and unmanned aircraft. Some drone operators are moving on a thin ice, and this could harm our entire industry and its safety record.”

So what are we going to do in order to address the problem? In the words of the Head of the FAA, Michael Huerta, “there’s a certain amount of figuring it out as we go along.” Of course we can’t foresee all the obstacles that may present themselves as a result of the increasing drone usage, but we can be sure that they will be resolved in the long run. After all, we have already dealt with the invention of the automobile, plane, computer, internet, phone…we’re pretty sure we can handle drones. But for now, please just remind the drone users to be cautious and considerate as we move from sharing the road to sharing the sky.