Collins, solo

In “Dreading Those Drones” Ms. Collins says look, up in the sky! There’s a lot to worry about.  Here she is:

There’s something very wrong with recreational drones.

You can see the attraction. They can be extremely easy to fly and they take cool pictures. The Consumer Electronics Association forecasts about 700,000 will be sold to hobbyists, gift-givers and random shoppers this year, up from 430,000 in 2014 but far fewer than the 1.1 million sales anticipated for 2016. Some are tiny flying toys, weighing less than an ounce. Some weigh more than 50 pounds, and still count as “recreational.”

I think I speak for all of us when I say that we do not want to get in between a child and his ToyJoy F8 Space Trek RC Nano Drone. But it’s absolutely crazy that the bigger ones — the ones capable of flying in the same airspace as a helicopter or dropping a mystery package on a nuclear power plant — aren’t being licensed and strictly regulated.

Every day there seems to be a new story. A drone flew over the Oklahoma State Penitentiary this week, carrying a bundle of drugs and hacksaw blades dangling from a fishing line. Fortunately, it crashed before any inmates could grab the loot. Meanwhile, a drone flew into power lines in West Hollywood and knocked one to the ground, leaving about 700 customers without electricity.

Now it’s true that squirrels knock out power lines and nobody’s talking about regulating them. But squirrels don’t get in the way of passenger planes. The Federal Aviation Administration is getting about 100 reports of close encounters every month.

How can something terrible not happen sooner or later? “From the California point of view it’s only a matter of time,” said Senator Dianne Feinstein, the sponsor of the Consumer Drone Safety Act, which is at this point still just a proposal, not an actual law. The many near-disasters Feinstein’s office has chronicled include a number of cases in which planes and helicopters attempting to put out wildfires were forced to pull back because of drones in the air space.

Also on this week’s drone report: A judge in Kentucky dismissed charges against a man who shot down a drone he said was flying over his property and spying on his family. We are not taking sides in this dispute, but since the point of most drones is the taking of pictures, you can see where this is going to become an issue.

When recreational drones first came on the market, Congress regarded them as another version of model airplanes, and basically told the F.A.A. to keep its hands off. Model airplanes do have a long and relatively problem-free history. This is possibly because they’re kind of difficult to master, and someone who will go to the trouble of learning how to fly one will probably be disciplined enough not to do anything incredibly stupid.

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