Why The Debate Over Drones All Goes Back To Avian Suicide

Nov 29, 2016


A drone captures videos and still images of an apartment building in Philadelphia.
Credit Matt Rourke / AP File Photo

The Federal Aviation Administration is due to release rules for drone operation over populated areas in a couple weeks. Interest is high in many sectors, including local government.

This upcoming set of FAA guidelines will be the second released by the federal government. The first was published last summer, but left many unanswered questions. It also came about a decade after smaller drones became available to civilians for an attainable price that's since steadily dropped. In the meantime, some municipalities — including at least a dozen in Pennsylvania — enacted their own rules in response to constituent concerns about the new, unfamiliar technology buzzing right over their own backyards (in some cases, literally).

That might explain why so many local officials packed the panel about drones at the National League of Cities conference this month. The standing-room-only crowd was rare for the summit, especially given that it was a Saturday morning.

The panel was moderated by Dan McNeal, a Pepperdine University law professor who created a mobile app for drone operators and formerly taught at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Cumberland County.

Speakers included FAA Chief Counsel Reggie Govan, California-based municipal attorney Nicole Witt, San Francisco International Airport Director Ivar Satero and James Grimsley, an aerospace engineer who heads a drone-focused R&D firm and is associate vice president of research at the University of Oklahoma.

The 90-minute panel flew by. In no particular order, the most fascinating takeaways can be read here. 

Keystone Crossroads is a statewide public media initiative reporting on the challenges facing Pennsylvania's cities. WPSU is a participating station.