Droning on

I usually read the Wall Street Journal, especially the Opinion columns; I find them insightful and, above all, intelligent commentary. But a series of articles by one of their writers has me, I guess, befuddled. It has to do with the Federal Aviation Administration and its control over the unmanned vehicle business.

Now I’m an avid capitalist; if that offends any one, I’m sure I’m sorry. However my views come from working in the aviation industry for thirty years and – right or wrong – they are founded in experiences that I’ve lived; I like the concept of entrepreneurism.

But I’m afraid one particular writer for the Wall Street Journal is becoming blinded by what he/she perceives as a restraining of the free marketing system, arguing in favor of unrestricted access to our skies; that they should not lie in the control of a government organization, but with competition. Normally my background would applaud his opinion, give it a wide berth and even run tackle for it; unlimited government intervention is the grandfather bad idea of all bad ideas. But in this case I have to side with the opposition.

We have an FAA for the simple reason that for every ten responsible pilots, mechanics, engineers, etc; there is one who’s ignitor is misfiring. I can think of countless events where trained airmen of every cloth has buzzed a populated beach, combined two airplanes that make Frankenstein look like a high school science project, or engineered a fix on something that wasn’t broke. And that’s the aviation people.

Now you might say, how much trouble can an unsupervised person get into with a drone? My response: How much damage can a lone fool do with a laser pointer? There will always be those who have in mind the desire – not to be famous – but to be infamous.

Consider the Miracle on the Hudson, US Airways flight 1549; they take off of runway 4 and hit a flock of birds, FOD out both engines, and glide into a water landing. A success story made possible by two very qualified pilots and random circumstances that smiled down upon them. But what if they had NOT been launched off Runway 4, but instead off of Runway 22? Or Runway 13? Then the outcome would have been a lot different because they would have been gliding over heavily populated areas of Queens and Manhattan.

And what if it wasn’t a flock of birds, but someone on the ground who intentionally flew drones close to the aircraft on a dare or because they were feeling god-like; the aircraft accident would be incredibly tragic, both in the air and on the ground. Am I being fatalistic? Do I have an overactive imagination?

Perhaps. However, I know that there have been cases where drones were flown illegally near major airports. I know the ability to catch these offenders of safety is not that easy. And I also know that if people are willing to take the chance to bring down an aircraft – helicopter or airliner – with a laser, there are people crazy enough to do it with a drone. Why else would someone intentionally fly a drone near a major airport’s launching aircraft?

So you see it isn’t the FAA’s desire to step on capitalism or even the average drone operator’s practice sessions or fun. The FAA still has a job to do and that’s to assure the skies are safe, yes, even at the risk of a free market idea.

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