Watts 2012: What will the legal environment of drone operators look like?

Watts’s article about unmanned aircraft systems (UASs) offers a broad overview of the technological development and variety of drones. The main civilian uses mentioned in this article, such as monitoring of wildfires, scientific research and mine safety, do seem like good avenues for the use of this technology. Safety concerns are important in these contexts, though I fear that these dangers may be exaggerated sometimes, such that jobs in aviation are reduced unnecessarily. As far as the legal implications of the proliferation of UASs, the article is concerned mainly with how the American Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), whose mandate concerned with physical safety, will cope with the ambiguities that UASs present. However, this is more from the perspective of how users of drones are affected by regulations, and is less concerned with whether or not the spirit of these regulations will be adhered to. I wonder whether operator licenses may become a necessity, in order to prevent occurrences such as a drone falling from the sky and injuring people due to poor handling. Beyond physical safety issues, there are also societal issues outside of the jurisdiction of the FAA. In the United States, many laws are being passed by state governments in addition to federal regulations. Gary Wickert’s article “Drone Wars: Airspace and Legal Rights in the Age of Drones”, discusses a variety of state laws that are often quite situation-specific. Environmental scientists who use drones in the US may have to keep abreast of a multitude of state laws in order to ensure that they are not accused of harassing hunters, as in the case of Alabama, or aiding hunters, as in the case of Colorado, or taking any footage of a hunter or angler without their consent, in the case of Tennessee.



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