New toy comes with potential problems

Drones could pose danger to planes

By John Rech

The top selling Christmas toy list included some familiar names like Legos, Star Wars and Barbie. Target said Bright Beats Dance & Move BeatBo topped purchase charts. With the premiere of a new “Star Wars” film, character robots and a Jedi lightsaber toys were popular picks. New toys for techies included a flexible phone, the FitBit, and the selfie-stick. But drone sales definitely took off, soaring so high the FAA was compelled to launch new registration requirements. The aviation administration expected drone sales to top out at 400,000 during the Christmas season. Most of the new pilots have never flown a drone or anything else. The little helicopters buzz around on three or more propellers with a radio-controlled joy stick or iPad screen and blue tooth signal. Drones have been a nuisance for many, banging windows, crashing into trees or onto houses. Some worry about privacy with micro cameras being mounted on unlicensed aircraft. A total of 51 drones crashed into aircraft last year according to government statistics. Safety concerns for people on the ground represent part of the official worries too. A drone crashed just behind a downhill ski racer in December. A drone crashed on the White House lawn. In all, there were 921 near misses last year. Citing safety and crash concerns, effective Dec. 2, drones weighing more than nine ounces must be registered by the consumer within 60 days. Regulators hope to make drone pilots more responsible. A nominal $5 online registration fee provides an opportunity to learn limits. “When they don’t fly safely, they’ll know there will be consequences,” said Michael Huerta with the FAA. Locally, West Memphis Municipal Airport officials have provided some common sense reminders about drones. Tilden Rogers park is a big open playground and near the airport. The Airport Commission, concerned with safe approaches and take-offs, has steadfastly resisted attempts to put tall cell phone towers in the park. Now, the potential interference with flights by drones has add a new level of concern. “Toy drones would be all right in the park as long as they flew below pole top height,” said Airport Manager Lynda Avery. Flights over 400 feet within five miles of an airport are already outlawed. Airport Engineer Stacey Morris weighed in. too, noting that while aerial photography, real-estate listing videos and other legitimate uses for drone cameras exits, there remain numerous possible hazards. He said some drones may be additionally required to have an FAA signal marker. “Any drone used for commercial purposes must be registered,” cautioned Morris. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx noted registration is a “first good step,” but noted, “Bad guys won’t register their drones.” According to CNN, drone registration will at least help investigators track down pilots that practice unsafe or illegal flying.


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