Tallahassee incident further fuels national drone debate

Quadrocopter Drone
Posted at 11:45 PM, May 09, 2014
and last updated 2014-05-09 21:03:01-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) - Reports of a near-collision between a commercial airliner and a drone over Tallahassee are further fueling debate on the technology.

The Federal Aviation Administration has confirmed that on the night of March 22, a small drone nearly collided with an American Airlines flight from Charlotte to Tallahassee, while the flight was approaching the Tallahassee Regional Airport.

But the Tallahassee incident is part of a larger picture, in which the FAA finds itself grappling with difficult questions of how to incorporate emergent drone technology into what is already the world's most crowded airspace.

In August 2013, a drone crashed into the crowd attending The Great Bull Run at Virginia Motor Speedway.  The crash injured several spectators.

In April of this year, the FAA announced it is investigating recent use of drone technology to provide aerial coverage of severe weather damage in states like Florida and Arkansas, hit hard by recent storms.

And as recently as this month, the U.S. National Park Service announced it has banned the use of drones in Zion National Park and Yosemite National Park, with more bans expected to follow. Park officials say the small, camera-fitted drones often used for aerial footage can harm wildlife, and even hinder air rescue efforts.

Drones have also gained infamy in some circles for their recent military applications, but the technology also offers potential civilian uses that have drawn interest.  Facebook and Amazon have both expressed desire to incorporate drones into their respective business models.

The FAA currently does not allow use of drones for commercial applications.  Certain hobbyist use is permitted, but with conditions, such as notifying air traffic control anytime one intends to fly a drone within five miles of an airport.

Technology advocates and drone-related firms are planning to challenge several of the existing rules in court.