Editorials

Don’t be a total buzzkill, Metro Parks Tacoma. Create a drone zone

“Hey, drones, get off our lawns … and out of our airspace!”

It’s a directive we may soon hear from Metro Parks Tacoma, along with a slew of other code changes now under consideration.

Vapes and drones are making headlines this month, as in: Should they stay or should they go? Metro Parks is seeking public comment through the end of August, with possible final action by the Tacoma City Council.

Here’s our two cents: E-cigarettes are hazardous to one’s personal health, but so are bladder-buster sized colas and no one’s proposing to ban them. Yet.

To justify a vaping ban, Metro Parks will need to slap us with some solid scientific data proving second-hand steam puts the public’s health at risk.

But drones? That’s an easy one. Eliminating unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) from most city parks is a good idea. If you haven’t heard one, think loud, electronic mosquitos, only these e-pests are more apt to crash and burn.

Still, we don’t want to see drone enthusiasts completely shut out of public spaces. Surely, Metro Parks can find a place in one of its 70 parks where UAVs can fly free.

Tacoma has skate parks and dog parks as designated places for activities that some people find annoying. Why not a public field for small flying machines? A drone zone, if you will.

The Federal Aviation Administration is responsible for most drone restrictions: If a UAV weighs more than .55 pounds, they must be registered. Recreational drones can’t go higher than 400 feet and no faster than 100 mph. Operators must also keep them in their line of sight.

But rules are few, and they haven’t kept pace with technological advancements, so municipalities have taken it upon themselves to just say no.

Seattle prohibits drones and other remote-controlled aircraft in city parks, a move most likely prompted after a UAV crashed into the Space Needle on New Year’s Eve 2017.

Seattle Public Utilities also bans the flying gizmos from Rattlesnake Ledge, knowing hikers climb that trail for a breathtaking view. Seattle Public Utilities also bans the flying gizmos from Rattlesnake Ledge, knowing hikers climb that trail for a breathtaking view. If something’s going to soar overhead, the criteria should be that it once hatched from an egg.

It’s too bad a 2017 drone bill never achieved liftoff with the state Legislature. That common-sense measure required operators to label their aircraft with contact information; it also prohibited operating a UAV over property without consent of the property owner.

Right now, it’s difficult to answer the question: “If a neighbor’s drone flies over your property, are you allowed to shoot it down?” Just in case the answer is a legal “yes,” an Australian company has created a compact drone gun that can jam a UAV’s signal from 500 meters away.

When recreational drones disrupt wildfire operations, as they often do, a drone gun might come in handy; instead, air support gets halted by hours and sometimes days. It’s why the FAA announced last fall that flying recreational drones near wildfires could result in a $20,000 fine.

But there is one law firmly in place — gravity — and here’s how it works: If a falling drone hits a person in the head, it’s likely to cause significant injury. Think steel shrapnel hurtling through the air at 50 mph.

The potential for injuries is high and they increase as technology does. Drone-a-phobes also fear voyeurism and illegal surveillance.

Still, drones are cool and will continue to play a significant role in problem solving.

In Japan, for example, scientists have created tiny drones that pollinate flowers. This “Plan Bee” is one way to address a disastrous consequence of climate change.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is also experimenting with drones, flying them over crops in Colorado to ensure every drop of irrigation is put to good use.

And during next year’s election, officials in Arizona plan to employ these useful robots to gather vote tallies from tribal lands deep within the Grand Canyon.

Washington state officials also count on drones to assist with rescue operations, forest fire monitoring, infrastructure inspection and scientific data collection.

Here at The News Tribune, we depend on drones for aerial photography and videography, while also recognizing the nuisance and mayhem they can cause people trying to enjoy public spaces.

That last part is why we support Metro Parks’ recent proposal to ban them.

At 69 parks out of 70, anyway.

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