Drone popularity grows

Steve Stefanides

Just a few years ago when you mentioned the word “drone” your thoughts would automatically turn to the military.

Americans have watched as the technology has advanced since World War II when unmanned aircraft were used as targets for fighters and antiaircraft gunners for practice.

Ron Hagerman, owner of Captain Ron’s Awesome Everglades Adventures, holds one of his drones.

Initially referred to as remotely piloted vehicles, around 1946 the word “drone” was first used to describe the pilotless units, but the advances in technology over the years have made the term much more common.

Today’s marketplace is basically split into three separate areas: military, commercial and consumer uses.

Noah Poponak, an aerospace and defense equity research analyst for Goldman Sachs, said he sees this market possibly growing into a $100 billion business by 2020.

“Drones are entering a new era,” said Poponak. “There is a common thread of them increasing efficiency and safety while doing so at lower costs.”

One of Capt. Ron Hagerman's drones in flight.

Drones were a subject of discussion earlier this month before the Marco Island City Council, as one drone unintentionally ended up on the outside balcony of a Cape Marco condo unit. The drone was piloted by a man visiting the island and videotaping the marine life in Caxambas Pass.

But the device had flown out of the control range of its owner.

Once that occurred, the unit automatically activated its “return to home” feature.

Unfortunately, the tall condo building was in the path back to the “home” position, causing it to make an unplanned “landing” on the balcony. Almost nine hours after the incident, the owners of the condo, unaware of the incident, were asked to see if the device was indeed on their balcony, and only then was it discovered.

As a result, Marco Island City Council member Victor Rios attempted to get the council to consider a local ordinance regulating drones, but the rest of the council members declined.

Rios said as drone use increases locally, the council may be forced to step in to protect citizens from unwanted intrusions.

“The councilors didn’t want to hear it because it was proposed by Victor Rios,” Rios told the Sun Times’ editor in an interview.

Police chief urges caution

Police Chief Al Schettino has a warning for drone operators who might be up to no good.

“Our personnel and all the available assets of this department will come to bear against someone using any device for illegal activity. This will happen only after the acts or actions have been found to be of a criminal nature. We will arrive at our decisions as how to proceed only after a though and professional investigation,” said Schettino.

“This includes drones, cameras or something as simple as a ladder against a building. What we won’t do is draw conclusions based on conjecture or conspiracy theories,” said Schettino in an interview this week.

“Should any citizen view suspicious activities we urge them to dial 911. We are here to serve them no matter what the details. Sometimes that simple call might avert a tragedy or a crime. The citizens are our front line and the eyes and ears of the department,” said Schettino.

But one drone operator, whose aerial images of Marco been used by local media, including the Sun Times, said he hopes the recent drone flap at the condo doesn’t mean government will be needlessly cracking down.

“It would be a shame if any group might over react to an isolated incident,” said Ron Hagerman, who owns Captain Ron’s Adventures on Marco Island. “I’ve been flying drones here for several years without an incident. You just use common sense and be responsible.

“We use them to film marine life and for recreational use as do many and get a great deal of enjoyment from them,” said Hagerman.


Commercial applications such as cinematography, photography, construction, agriculture, pipeline surveying, public safety and law enforcement can all benefit from this evolving technology and do it in a more effective, efficient and safer manner, drone advocates said.

Recreational uses of drones have also increased as novices and experienced flyers have flocked to purchase new and improved units. In 2015, the Federal Aviation Administration moved to register drones.

Units weighing under 55 pounds must be registered and may only be registered by a party 13 years of age or older who must be a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident. Units weighing 55 pounds or more must be registered under the aircraft registry process used by the FAA.

States, counties and municipalities are taking a cautious and studied approach as to how to regulate the popular devices.

But if you're headed for a national park and are seeking to use your device, the answer is simple: Drones are banned until the National Park Service comes up with a long-term policy.

That ban covers not only the 59 full-fledged national parks but about 350 national monuments, seashores and other sites run by the park service, about 84 million acres in all. The parks service hopes to have a long-term policy drafted later this year.

Parks service spokesman Jeffrey Olson was quoted in an article in the Los Angeles Times that “we do think that there are going to be some places in the national park system where drones could be allowed.”