Steve Chapman: Harmless Drones Get Federal Flak


Data Drone

In March 2012, volunteers spent four days looking for a two-year-old boy who wandered away from his home outside Houston, Texas. They found him only after volunteers reviewing images captured by a drone-mounted aerial camera saw a flash of red in a pond that had already been searched. It turned out to be a shirt worn by the child, who had drowned.

That was not the first time members of Texas EquuSearch had used these small model planes to help locate a missing person. But if the Federal Aviation Administration has its way, it won't happen again.

In February, the group got a letter from the FAA demanding that it stop using unmanned aircraft in search-and-rescue efforts, which it says violates its ban on the commercial use of drones. It's a perfect example of government regulators using imaginary problems to justify sweeping restrictions.

The agency fears that without its benevolent intervention, small drones will endanger commercial airliners, private jets and people on the ground. But as Steve Chapman points out, the FAA is ignoring its own history, which indicates that tiny flying machines are no particular cause for worry.