The crash of a commercial drone operated by a television broadcaster during the downhill skiing run by World Cup champion Marcel Hirscher of Austria in Madonna di Campiglio, Italy, highlights the critical responsibility for businesses that operate drones. The crash in Italy took place directly behind Hirscher during the competition, landing only a few feet behind him. It could easily have hit him.
The particular drone in the accident was carrying a television camera covering the competition. While this drone was apparently being operated with the permission of the race organizers, it's not the first drone crash happening during a sporting event. In fact, such crashes seem to be happening frequently and that's one of the reasons the FAA rushed to create a drone registration system.
The new drone registration system is aimed at consumers and hobbyists, but the fact that the FAA expects nearly a million drones to enter the national airspace in 2015 will affect your business significantly.
There are two reasons for this. First, there's a strong temptation to ignore the registration requirements for commercial drones and simply buy a consumer drone from a big-box store and fly the device. Second, the greatly expanded visibility of drones created by their sheer numbers means that any mistake in using a drone has the potential to have serious consequences.
Just to be clear, registration for commercial drones has been around for a while. Depending on the use, you may need to get clearance from the FAA to operate them, but these days such clearance is routine. In the next month or two, the FAA will create a set of rules for commercial use of drones that will eliminate much of the current red tape.
The current rules for commercial drone use are similar to those for personal or hobby use. The drone has to be operated within sight of the pilot at all times. It can't fly above 400 feet above ground level; it can't be used in declared no-fly zones; and it can't be used near airports. One other requirement unique to commercial drones is that the pilot must hold an FAA pilot's license.
The level of scrutiny on drone use is extreme. Already, the misuse of drones is in the news almost daily. Stories are showing up about drones getting in the way of commercial airliners and emergency first responders in addition to their appearance at sporting events.
Here in Washington, D.C., we're seeing a near-constant stream of reports of drones invading the White House grounds, the National Mall and a number of national parks nearby. The fact that the entire city of Washington is a no-fly zone demonstrates the level of the problem.
While most of the drones appearing in news stories are operated by hobbyists and consumers, the public and to some extent the non-technology news media don't know the difference.