Consumer, Environment, Technology

FAA expects millions of drones to fill U.S. skies

Drone technology is more popular than ever. U.S. sales are expected to double last year’s with almost 2.5 million aircraft sold. That notion excites tech enthusiasts, but has the government coming to grips with a horizon that may soon be full of unmanned air crafts.

The Federal Aviation Association said on Friday that it believes it won’t be long before millions of drones will cloud the nation’s skies. The spike in drone interest has forced the FAA to react, and introduce the drone pilot license less than a month ago.

In that time, nearly 14,000 have applied to take the required exam, and 5,080 have passed, leading the FAA to project more than 1.3 million licensed drone pilots by 2020. The license test requires an intense knowledge of aeronautical information, akin to the test required for commercial airline pilots. Some pilots, such as local Syracuse drone flier Chase Guttman, question how difficult the exam should be to fly commercially.

“I definitely think that the test is a necessary component,” Guttman said. “I do think (the FAA has) taken it a little too far with how much knowledge and stuff you need to know. Flying drones, all said and done, is relatively simple.

“They try to complicate it a little too much for my taste.”

A license, however, is not required for personal use. As drone expert and Chair of Journalism Innovation at Syracuse University Dan Pacheco pointed out, anyone can go to the store and purchase a multi-thousand dollar drone to fly. There are minimal restrictions or barriers to prevent an inexperienced pilot from putting others in danger.

“If I see somebody flying a drone around me … I’m very cautious with them,” Pacheco said. “I don’t assume they know what they’re doing. I assume they’re accidentally going to fly them into me.

“I sort of figure out my escape plan, because (drones are) like flying lawnmowers.”

Hobbyists are required by the FAA to register their aircraft, and Earl Lawrence, director of the FAA’s drone office, said about 2,000 aircrafts are being registered per day.