The recreational use of drones is skyrocketing. In fact, the Consumer Electronics Association predicts that 700,000 will be sold this holiday season. In recent years, drones have gained popularity, particularly with the everyday consumer, but until a few weeks ago, these unmanned aircraft weren’t regulated.

U.S. Fast-Tracks the Process for Rules on Drones

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has already issued a national notice to aviators restricting the use of any drone within three miles and up to 3,000 feet above event venues with a capacity of more than 30,000 people. Two weeks ago, the FAA took a step further – and announced it will require the owners of drones to register their aircraft with aviation authorities amid growing reports of near misses with regular air traffic. According to the FAA, pilot sightings of unmanned aircraft have doubled since last year with reports of drones near airplanes and at major sporting events.

Incursions Over Restricted Airspace

For several years we have been working closely with our clients in the sports and major event entertainment industries to address the security-related risks associated with drones. Besides the infamous incident earlier this year when a drone crashed at the White House, unauthorized use of a drone has reached almost epidemic levels at sporting events in the last few years. According to the National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security, in the last two years, “more than 50 unmanned aircrafts have flown over Major League Baseball and NFL stadiums, coming and going quietly – usually controlled by a hobbyist who either lost control of the device or wanted a picture of their favorite team in action.” While taking a photo might seem innocent, drones can crash, as one did recently at the New York Stadium during the U.S. Open Tennis Championships.  We have also worked with many local jurisdictions to restrict aircraft through local law enforcement agencies with primary jurisdiction for the venue.

In Addition to Registration, How About Transponders and Geo-Fencing?

Since drones are a new phenomena, at least in the consumer market, a lot still needs to be done to improve regulations:

  1. Owners of new and existing drones will need to register, which will help investigators identify the owners of drones if they crash.
  2. Drones should be required to carry transponders that are difficult to deactivate so that they can be seen as they enter restricted airspace and so that investigators can easily identify owners.
  3. They should also be required to carry geo-fencing technology that renders drones incapable of flying where they are not supposed to go.

Beyond Regulation, What About Malicious Use?

It’s one thing to regulate drone use for recreational purposes. It’s another to prevent or mitigate the consequences of drone use with malicious intent. This is an area we will be helping many of our clients address immediately and in the years ahead.

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