Safety vs. Freedom

By Mila Moldenhawer

Safety vs. Freedom

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) believes that there is a complex balance between public safety, individual privacy and commercial interests. Thus, it is very important to develop a strong set of rules and regulations to navigate commercial drone use.

In this article we will explore the potential commercial use of drones; both what the current allowances are and what private companies hope to use drones for commercially in the future. In general people are less concerned about drones being used scientifically than commercially.

In the FAA’s perspective is similar they don’t want people to make profit off it just yet, because they have not implemented regulations, suggesting that it makes sense that drones are more likely to crash and be misused for when it is for commercial gain. Allowing any commercial industry to use drones for profit could be very dangerous and threatening to public safety. “Safety is the FAA’s top mission, and the agency maintains the world’s safest aviation system.” , while companies are concerned primarily with their profits. The FAA is staying on the safe side in integrating drones into urban areas (commercially) and taking their time; at a Congressional hearing on December 10, 2014 the FAA decided not to rush the process of creating regulations on drone use. The Department of Transportation’s Assistant Inspector General for Aviation Audits, Matthew Hampton, stated that the FAA would not be able to meet that goal of safely integrating drones by September of 2015 because they are not yet ready to set guidelines on drone use and regulation due to significant “technological, regulatory, and management challenges standing in their way.”

Companies often use arguments presenting the benefits of drones, for example their efficiency, the good they can do to the economy and their company, how they can help impact our knowledge and upkeep of the environment, and how they could better serve customers with them. These arguments are based on self-interest, making regulations based on safety controversial and difficult to come to agreements on. Drone regulations surrounding commercial use are much more controversial than regulations for other aircrafts or even other uses of drones because commercial use takes place in an urban environment which could lead to all sorts of public safety hazards. There is also the possibility of them not being spotted by other aircrafts since their size allows them to trespass under the radar. Citizens’ concerns usually stem from fear and trepidation of being spied on. “People are pretty much a fixed size. You can’t make a manned aircraft smaller than the person manning it. Drones, however, can be tiny. When it comes to surveillance this makes drones much more a threat than manned aircraft. You wont miss the chopper hovering outside your window; you will miss the fly on the wall”.  Many Citizens fear that the regulatory decisions made by the FAA may infringe on their Fourth Amendment right.

Meanwhile the FAA is saying they need more time to plan safely because at the moment drones could “cause a crash if one collided with a plane or was sucked into an engine. Small drones usually aren’t visible on radar to air traffic controllers, particularly if they’re made of plastic or other composites

The FAA’s biggest concern is safety and their decisions are not based on emotion or morality, they are based on facts, logic, science and data. The FAA is more qualified on deciding on the future of drones in the commercial industry than anyone else.

Drones have just recently been recognized for their wide range of uses. Jeff Bezos’ (CEO of Amazon) recent idea, which could directly benefit him and us, is a prime example of a totally novel and high risk way of using drones. His idea is to use drones instead of delivery trucks and people, to deliver packages to homes. This would mean that a package could delivered to your house in about 30 minutes after being ordered. Supposedly Bezos is ready to make drone delivery a reality as soon as the proper regulations are put in place. While this idea does make sense efficiency wise, and would benefit his customers, it has a very dangerous side. Having commercial drones in urban areas poses a great danger because there is are high possibilities of collisions, spying, and malfunction.


Bezos’s philosophy is to keep moving forward and continuously improving his company with new technologies. In his mind there is no downside in using drones instead of employees; they are more time efficient and cheaper. His ideas come from a place of self-interest and are a great example why companies should not make their own regulations and the why the FAA needs to step in. The drone industry may be very profitable and so companies often want to downplay the safety risks in order to maximize profit.


We need the FAA to look out for the public, because the companies don’t lookout for anyone but themselves.  Jeff Bezos’ desire to use drones and give his company a business advantage is not very surprising. But it is important to consider that implementing drones is often portrayed as a slippery slope to job losses by working class citizens. If Bezos is okay with using drones instead of delivery trucks and people he might eventually use robots for everything, causing people to lose their jobs and leading to unemployment.  Many citizens are afraid of the things drones bring and are associated with, and even more so because they have never experienced them being used commercially, and only have seen them used for spying  and lethal military use, as far as most people know. It is only natural that many people are finding all sorts of reasons it is dangerous and could lead to other things we don’t want

At the moment the FAA only wants to allow the use of drones for companies that have practical uses, which at this point seem to be, scientific purposes, research and surveillance of large companies. It will grant commercial companies the ability to operate drones if their need to use UAV technology is high enough.(Granted under Section 333 of the 2012 FAA Modernization and Reauthorization act)

If the FAA allowed commercial companies to develop and implement unregulated drone use to serve the public, it would facilitate the widespread urban use of drones at a fast pace, and lead to a rapid progression in technology. This would directly benefit certain companies, and in a certain respects American citizens. For example, Amazon says it could use drones to deliver packages much quicker, in approximately 30 minutes. Is the risk worth the benefit. Should we risk our right to privacy safety for a luxury and not a necessity? The question is: Does Amazon really need drones?

Despite the FAA’s extensive time spent developing rules and regulations to safely integrate drones, some people still don’t trust drones in the hands of companies who want to use them on a large scale.The prospect of so many little robotic aircrafts in the air, potentially being armed or watching us, can be scary to many people, although the FAA is more worried about safety of airspace. The possibility of Amazon using drones for delivery so extensively seems to give citizens a negative image. Looking up and seeing UAVs clouding the sky is what people seem to imagine when they think of a technological apocalypse.


In the citizens eyes the danger is that these drones are obviously equipped with cameras and potentially, even weapons and we don’t know who might be controlling them. While the people’s concerns are often devoid of reason and based around the paranoia of the potential possibilities that drone use could lead to, the FAA is less worried about the impact of machines on people’s psyche as they are about the efficiency and safety of our aerospace system. The relationship between the law and new technologies has always been controversial because lots of new technology has the potential of violating our rights if used inappropriately. There is a mixture of unease, skepticism and speculation about what the use of drones could lead to. It all seems far away and a bit futuristic in people’s minds, but in reality whether they like it or not, they should start to accept that the regular use of drones is not far away.

Drones have proven useful, for example for media coverage, to collect information during a crisis, with safety, accuracy and cost effectively. Even though there are definitely good uses for drones, it is important for the public to have a national aviation authority that uses logical a factual approach to maintain public safety and realizes the private industries will constantly push their technology as fast as possible, which can be dangerous if the proper precautions are not put in place.

On December 10th of 2014 four corporations were given FAA approval to use drones commercially: TRMB , Woolpert. Inc. , VDOS Global, and Clayco Inc. On January 6th of 2015 two more companies were granted exemptions: Douglas Trudeau Tierra Antigua Realty: A real estate company, can now make aerial videos and Advanced aviation solutions. Advanced Aviation Solutions can integrate unmanned aircrafts into fields for precision agriculture, lands management, fire science, fish and game management and educational programs for careers in unmanned aircraft systems operations and maintenance.

Unlike Amazon these companies received exemptions because they are using drones at safe heights, for aerial surveys, to monitor construction sites and inspect oil flare rigs. They are not being used in urban areas, and are not putting other aircrafts in danger. These are practical applications have a more meaningful benefit and less risk than commercial use. The FAA believes these companies are using drones appropriately, efficiently and practically for these companies to achieve their goals.

“In granting these exemptions, the FAA considered the planned operating environments and required conditions and limitations to assure the safe operation of these UAVs in the National Airspace System. For example, operations require both a pilot and observer; the pilot must have at least an FAA Private Pilot certificate and a current medical certificate, and the UAV’s must remain within line of sight at all times”. This is another example of how carefully the FAA wants companies to be safe. Because the FAA needs to be concerned about the misuse of drones, it has to be careful who they decide to give exemptions to. This is why FAA is hesitant to have the CEO of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, live out his technological manifest destiny. He and every other commercial company need limitations and boundaries to conduct safe usage.

The delay in implementing regulations in U.S. while places like the UK have already allowed some use of drones, may stunt technological advancement and economic profit in the U.S. The issue isn’t just that research must be conducted overseas, it’s that the use of drones for commercial companies could be delayed in the U.S. while other countries around the world ahead. Jeff Bezos has said that it’s possible Amazon’s drone-delivery service would make its way to customers in Europe before it can service U.S. customers.”  Amazon has already taken some of its testing to England because the FAA is constantly postponing the date they will release drone regulations. More companies are following Amazon. Although the FAA is being pressured to hurry, it doesn’t want to rush such an important decision. In spite of pressures from companies the FAA’s main concern will always be the safety.They have set a new date for themselves to release drone regulations in 2017.

As for the public, many people still fear the prospect of drones everywhere, for the infringement of privacy, and other safety issues it may bring up. They are fearful of new technology and are scared of the consequences that come with its abuse and misuse. Numerous people are scared of putting this kind of power into hands of a huge company “Once this happens who knows what else could happen?”  However whether we like it or not drones will be used commercially in our lifetimes because the decision is up the FAA not the citizens. By 2018 there could be 7,500 commercial drones. Luckily there are going to be strict regulations around them, and we should know that there’s a whole administration looking after this specific issue that is not necessarily concerned with a potential violation of individual rights but solely with the safety of the general public. These decisions are made through facts and science, so they are stronger that the emotional arguments made by industries and citizens.

The regulations for drones are being closely watched. Everything is moving at a deliberate pace. The FAA insists that we can not rush such a big step into the future. There are companies completely justified in their proposed use of drones, and others which are not. It is important to keep in mind the potential benefits and drawbacks of each and make sure companies and industries realize the risk they are taking and the safety they need to maintain when incorporating drones into their business.The FAA is not sure what the most appropriate uses for drones are in the future with all the potential, but one thing is for sure; they will make sure this revolutionary technology is used rationally and safely.



9 thoughts on “Safety vs. Freedom

  1. I never knew how little say we have in the use of drones, but im happy that the AFA is qualified to regulate the use of commercial drones.


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