New Threat from above: Cheap, Accessible Drones

  • Amateur photographers and Hollywood film makers turn to them for lush overhead shots.
  • Geologists use them to look above the seas for oil-bearing rocks.Amazon executives are pushing to use them to plop packages onto doorsteps.
  • But now drones -the unmanned flying vehicles the size of a pizza box -are also a favourite tool for more unruly groups from pranksters and troublemakers.
  • As the price of drones has fallen and sales have risen, the machines have emerged as central characters in stunts from the puckish to the criminal.
  • In recent months, drone pilots have tried to smuggle contraband into prisons and disrupt sporting events at stadiums.
  • Animal rights groups have turned to drones to stalk hunters as the hunters stalk wildlife.
  • And in France, more than a dozen illegal flights over nuclear power plants have unnerved the authorities.
  • The antics are forcing public safety officials to look at the air above them, generally thought safe and secure, as a place for potential trouble. 
  • And for groups pushing drones as legitimate business tools, the high jinks are an unexpected and unwelcome headache -one, they fear, that will bolster a push by regulators to keep a tight leash on the machines.
  • FAA said it receives about 25 reports a month of drones operating near manned aircraft.
  • The agency is expected to propose new rules for commercial use next month.
  • All hell is going to break loose as far as the shenanigans that are perpetrated with drones.
  • For the most part, flying a drone is legal for recreational purposes, as long as operators follow a few guidelines, like staying below 400 feet.
  • Declining prices -a four-rotor model with a mounted camera can cost as little as $500 -have attracted more buyers.
  • Teal Group, an aerospace research firm, estimates the global civilian drone market to be worth $450 million this year, up 45% from last year.
  • The machines now regularly make mundane appearances at parks and weddings, often to supply overhead photography .
  • Just over a year ago, Tom Mabe, a comedian in Louisville, Ky., came up with a Halloween prank that used a drone to scare people with a grim reaper, rigging the mannequin to the drone with fishing lines.
  • The video, showing terrified people in a park, has generated more than seven million views on YouTube.
  • Outdoor sporting events, which offer open-air environments with large audiences, have become a particularly hot target.
  • In October, a soccer match in Belgrade between the Serbian and Albanian national teams was paralyzed when someone hovered a drone over the field that held a flag for Greater Albania, a charged symbol for many in the stadium.