Airports are reconsidering whether to allow their retailers to sell drones following increased fears about potential collisions between drones and airplanes.
Last week the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey demanded its stores stop selling drones immediately. The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority also has a no-drone policy. In Massachusetts, the port authority is reevaluating whether to allow remote controlled aircraft sales in terminal stores.
“We share the same concerns as our partners at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey regarding the myriad safety issues raised by increased drone activity,” said spokeswoman Jennifer Mehigan. “We would like to see greater regulations and consumer education for those operating drones.”
Airports in the United States generally don’t restrict their retailers from selling drones. Some retailers such as Brookstone stock drones, which are increasingly popular with vacationers wanting to capture stunning aerial photos and videos. (Brookstone did not respond to requests for comment.)
But there are downsides of this new technology too. FAA reports have found a recent rise in pilot reporting sightings of unmanned aircraft. The question is how to evaluate and manage the new risks.
Todd Curtis, the creator of AirSafe.com and a former Boeing engineer, said he chuckled last week after hearing the decision of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
“Even if someone wanted to do something crazy, it’s unlikely they’d be able to do something,” said Curtis, noting the small size of drones consumers can easily purchase in airports, and the restricted nature of where a person at an airport can go and potentially fly a drone. Also, airplanes are built to withstand collisions with small birds with similar weights to popular consumer drones.
Still, Curtis sees some value in the restrictions.
“As a symbol it’s something airports can do that raises public awareness that drones are bad things around airports,” Curtis said.
There’s universal agreement that drones shouldn’t fly near airports. Some drone makers have added software so their drones won’t fly within a five-mile radius of airports. Still, someone with ill intent could build their own drone and bring it to an airport.
The new limits on drones sales in airports borrow from a familiar script of innovation and regulation. A new technology comes along, offering both good and bad potential. As society wrestles with how to manage it, some rules can seem like overreactions.
“With this development, anti-drone hysteria has jumped the shark. People don’t buy drones at airports to fly them over the tarmac, they buy them to take home as gifts,” said Brendan Schulman, vice president of policy and legal affairs at DJI, the world’s largest drone maker. “The frenzy has been fed by misreporting — a drone reportedly spotted by pilots 12 miles from Newark airport was widely reported by the press as being ‘at’ or ‘near’ Newark airport.”