Drones: A doubled edged sword

You see them hovering above events. The real “eye in the sky”, remotely controlled by someone nearby. Your friends might have one, or you might know people who use them for work purposes – or been unlucky enough to have a prying one hovering over your property.

Welcome – for better or for worse – to the world of drones.

I do not know anyone personally who owns a drone. I have wondered occasionally about the pros and cons of having one.

Let me be clear. Drones certainly have their uses. Civilian construction contractors often use them to view safely structures or dangerous terrain when working on projects. When the demolition phase of the Christchurch recovery was in progress drones were very useful for flying into and around buildings that were too dangerous to approach on foot. This also included houses in Scarborough, on the cliffs overlooking Redcliffs as well as other Port Hill suburbs.

Recreational users also find them popular. One example is a clip taken at Lake Coleridge at the end of Intake Road, gives a perspective on the Lake Coleridge power station intake that cannot be gained from foot access due to the safety hazards posed by the intake and it being in a fenced off area.

Drones also have military uses – and abuses. Surveillance of ones territory is one thing; using one to deliver lethal force is quite another (and a particularly concerning grey area of international law).

Civil Aviation Authority requires that all drone operators comply with their code for controlled devices. It does not matter whether you are a recreational user, civil or other user, there are certain things you can and cannot do.

Given that there are concerns about drone users who do not think about or have malicious intentions when they fly drones over private property, people who have not consented to being filmed and so forth, I believe a certification process is required. It is not that I believe drone use should be limited, but it is important to know and respect the fact that improper use of a drone can constitute serious criminal offending for which consequences are inevitable.

The concerns are justified. As the use of drones increases so will the likelihood of them being found in improper locations. The likelihood of of one endangering traffic, humans or aircraft due to being flown in circumstances where they should be grounded will increase.

And this is shown by the cases that occasionally appear before the Courts, in which drone users are charged because they put their craft in the way of helicopters or aircraft on legitimate business. One such case recently was a tourist who was made to forfeit his drone after flying it in front of helicopters trying to fight a scrub fire. He knew that it could potentially cause a crash. He had no reasonable explanation for his actions. Others have been prosecuted for flying their aircraft into flight paths of oncoming aircraft ranging from single seat private planes through to commercial passenger jets.

I am also aware of a couple of cases a few years ago where drones were seen hovering over peoples properties without their permission. One gentleman mentioned a drone hovering outside his place whilst his wife was home. Others mentioned concerns about users flying them overhead whilst children were playing. None of this is okay and breaches the C.A.A. rules. It also represents an unacceptable privacy invasion that no one should have to accept.

The number of drones is going to continue to grow as newer models come into the market and prices fall. So will the risk of improper use. I support a certification process for drones. Anyone over the age of say 16 should be permitted to buy one, but not before they get a certification to demonstrate they understand and agree to comply with legal obligations set down by the C.A.A. and other authorities. Repeated failure to comply should require forfeiture of the drone and of your certification.

1 thought on “Drones: A doubled edged sword

  1. I own a drone/quadcopter Robert. It is a ‘Phantom 2″ which we had to buy and attach a gimball and a hero camera to, to see anything.
    Nowadays all the drones come with built in cameras, and yes they are coming down in price. Ours cost $1300 when we purchased it an the hero camera was $600, so the cost of ownership was quite prohibitive for the ‘ordinary’ person.
    There are so many ‘cheap’ drones out there now, its like the registration debate for bikes – very difficult for recreational devices that are commonly used.


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