Nothing stresses out drone enthusiasts more than reading in the news that some hobbyist decided to pilot a homemade, remote-controlled helicopter drone over Alcatraz or, as in a reported case in March, test out a three-foot-wide drone near a jetliner landing at John F. Kennedy airport.
“People like that make our lives more difficult,” said Brandon Stark, a drone researcher at the University of California, Merced.
These flights are illegal—people must keep drones within their line of sight, under 400 feet and away from airports. But that hasn’t stopped a few rogue hobbyists from breaking the rules, plus some specifics ones, such as the prohibition against flying lower than 2,000 feet above Alcatraz. It was these kinds of incidents that led the Federal Aviation Administration to greatly restrict small drone flights in the first place in 2007 and begin the process of coming up with still-uncompleted universal safety standards for unmanned aircraft that could be as stringent as those for commercial airliners.
“There were people doing really stupid stuff,” said Ted Wierzbanowski, a retired Air Force colonel and the chair of a committee tasked by the FAA to recommend safety regulations for small drones that weigh less 55 pounds. “The FAA saw all of this happening and how unsafe it was starting to become, and they had to shut it down.”