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Published: Monday, 7/7/2014


The drones are coming

On the night of June 26, Pittsburgh Pirates fans saw something flying above the field: not a baseball, but a drone.

Team officials asked police to find the drone operator and ask him to stop the flight; he quickly complied. Yet the Federal Aviation Administration properly investigated the incident.

The drone that flew over the stadium isn’t the sort that roams over Iraq and Afghanistan. But that doesn’t mean the potential for something bad doesn’t fly with this sort of domestic drone.

It takes little imagination to figure out how a small drone could cause great harm. A remote-controlled vehicle could accidentally plunge into a crowd.

An FAA rule instituted after 9/​11 requires most aircraft, including drones, to keep a prescribed distance from major sports stadiums. Drones might also be covered by trespassing laws, but when they invade airspace rather than property, the issue is not clear.

The episode demonstrates that the law has not kept pace with technology. New laws addressing drones are needed; in drafting them, lawmakers at all levels should be mindful that the aircraft also have legitimate uses — pursuing recreation, gauging security, gathering news, inspecting infrastructure.

The drones are coming. The only question is whether we will be prepared.

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