Cheaper drones mean more are flying, sparks concern

Cheaper drones mean more are flying, sparks concern
Published: Sep. 1, 2014 at 8:45 PM HST|Updated: Sep. 1, 2014 at 9:59 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Drones are not just used for military operations anymore.

The devices have given us mesmerizing video of humpback whales cruising along the North Shore, a bird's eye view of the storm damage in Puna, and breathtaking video of historic waves breaking outside Waimea Bay.

There are more drones in the air than ever before, as the cost goes down and availability goes up.

Estin Ma has a growing collection, from a DJI Phantom 2 Vision to the DJI F550 and several in between.

Flying Unmanned Aircraft Systems, or UAS, as they are officially called, is a hobby for him.

Ma meets other enthusiasts every weekend at parks, "For me, as a little kid, I loved remote controlled helicopters and planes," he says. He describes drones as the new and improved versions.

But the ones Ma uses now travel upwards of 25 miles an hour, fly several hundred feet in the air, and record HD video. They can also hover, adjusting to the wind. Many look like robots that fly instead of crawl and some have flashing lights. Those details are making some people uncomfortable.

"We're not out to spy on people," says Ma.

"I always fly in a park and never in a residential area," says Jenly Chen, another drone enthusiast.

Honolulu Police say they haven't had any complaints about privacy violations with regard to drone use, so far.

Attorney Bruce Voss says he hasn't heard of any cases either.

And Ian Gregor, Public Affairs Manager for the Federal Aviation Administration, says the agency hasn't issued any citations to drone users in Hawaii.

The FAA doesn't monitor concerns about privacy but does have limitations for drone use. For example, devices can't fly more than 400 feet or within 5 miles of an airport.

"The FAA plans to issue a proposed rule for small UAS-less than 55 pounds-by the end of this year," says Gregor.

Hobbyists actually encourage more regulations, saying it will help protect everybody.

"Someone who doesn't know what they are doing can pick one up, do something stupid with it and ruin it for the rest of us," says Ma. Who wants drone sellers to advise buyers about the concerns.

"You have that responsibility to be safe and respect other people's privacy and their space," says Jenly Chen.

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