Drones a threat to everything below them

Photo credit: Marco Verch Professional Photographer licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, and Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition

The skies are already filled with airplanes and helicopters and the residents on the ground can attest to the amount of noise emanating from these aircraft that have intruded upon their health and well-being. Safety is also a factor with respect to aircraft, however, and now, with the increase in drones and electric vertical takeoff and landing vehicles, we can expect the skies to be even more crowded and potentially more dangerous to those on the ground.

In the article “1,500 Eggs Waiting to Hatch. Then a Drone Crashed,” Michael Levenson writes about the crash of a drone on the nesting ground of of “elegant terns,” resulting in 2,500 terns being scared away and 1,500 eggs being abandoned. Melissa Loebl, an environmental scientist and manager of the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, said that in her 20 years of working with wildlife she has “never seen such devastation.” She adds that drones were prohibited in the reserve under California rules, but she feels the Federal Aviation Administration needs to issue federal rules about operating drones in the area. Michael H. Horn, a professor emeritus of biology, also expressed worry to Levenson about drones impacting harm to nesting seabirds.

When I referred to “those on the ground” being impacted by overhead air vehicles, I was not only referring to people. Our earth is filled with many species including humans. As we contemplate a future with a greater number of new vehicles in the skies, we must also consider legislation that protects all of us living below these vehicles. The FAA, which Loebl noted is the agency needing to issue rules to protect terns, is the same agency that residents have been relying on to protect them from the hazards of aircraft noise. Anti-aircraft and anti-helicopter noise groups, nationally, speak out regularly on how this agency has failed to protect them adequately. Can  Loebl or Professor Horn depend on the FAA to provide protection for the terns?

Levenson’s article has not only highlighted the importance of protecting nesting seabirds from drones, but also how important it is to protect humans as well from crashing drones. For humans, it is also not a matter of “will it happen,” but “when will it happen.” With doubt being cast on the FAA to protect humans, as well as nesting seabirds, from overhead flying vehicles, it is imperative that our representatives act more assertively to protect all of us on the ground.

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