Sunday, January 3, 2016

Drones drawing greater scrutiny

Bryan Marr operates one his drones used for commercial purposes. The proliferation of drones has some wondering if local regulations should be enacted to ensure proper usage and others' privacy.

As the drone industry takes off, the technological marvels have become increasingly affordable and under greater surveillance by federal regulators.

Drones could be purchased for as little as $25 to thousands of dollars depending on their capabilities. An estimated 400,000 were given as gifts this past Christmas.

Yet, just because drones can be flown as toys or for a hobby doesn’t mean they’re flying under the radar. The Federal Aviation Administration requires all small drones, those weighing between just more than half a pound up to 55 pounds, be registered by the owner, who also must place a registration number on the drone. Registration may be done online at It costs $5 to register one.

If used properly, drones can provide hours of recreation, but they also raise concerns that, used improperly, they can cause a safety hazard and possible invasion of privacy.

“You have people talk about drones, and some are scared,” said Bryan Marr, who owns a business in which he flies drones for commercial uses. “The word ‘drone’ has a negative connotation. There are privacy issues because you can snap pictures and put them on the Internet. But there are some drones that don’t have cameras, and many don’t have a great camera on them.”

To use his drone commercially, Marr needed a certificate of authorization and has to send an email every month to the FAA, identifying where his drones have flown and to notify the agency of any upgrades or incidents, such as a crash.

Those requirements are not required of enthusiasts, who greatly outnumber commercial users.

Marr said a pilot’s license is required for his work. He brings a pilot with him on all jobs to operate the drone as he works on his own license. The drone also must stay within the operator’s line of sight.

Rules for hobbyists include keeping the drone within the line of sight, keeping the drone below 400 feet and at least five miles from airports and not flying them near populated areas.

“I have seen those things lose control,” Marr said. “If you don’t go through a pre-flight check like a pilot, that can be dangerous.”

Marr also warned that some lower-end drones become confused and follow a different WiFi signal, causing the owner to lose sight of it.

Al Hamilton is another drone enthusiast and has helped organize classes for those wanting to know more about their drones, how to operate them and safety issues.

“My main concern was when I knew there were more drones out there,” he said. “I’m trying to educate people with drones on what you can or can’t do.

 “We need to be responsible. There is a responsibility with a car, an airplane, and there needs to be responsibility with drones.”

Hamilton, like others, is amazed that drones have grown in popularity almost overnight.

“We aren’t prepared for this,” he said. “Everybody has them, and I don’t like the unknown. I like the playground to be regulated.”

Ardmore City Manager J.D. Spohn said the city does not have anything on the books regarding drones but that doesn’t mean they won’t be monitored for possible regulation.

“We are on the ground floor of drones and there is a lot we don’t know,” he said. “The city will look at how they’re used to determine if any codes need to be written in regard to their usage within city limits.”


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