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Widespread marketing of drones may be working: The latest survey by the Saint Leo University Polling Institute finds that 9.5 percent of those polled nationally in November say they own a drone, compared to 3.5 percent in 2016.

In Florida, where the flying weather is often just fine, 10.2 percent of 500 respondents polled separately say they own a drone, compared to 5 percent in 2016.

The Saint Leo University Polling Institute began asking members of the public about their interest in drones in its fourth-quarter poll back in 2015. At the time, the unmanned aerial devices were starting to become known for business, law enforcement and agricultural uses, and not just for military activities, which continue. Commercial use of drones requires a license from the Federal Aviation Administration.

It may appeal to potential hobbyists that drones currently available that weigh less than 0.55 pounds (or 250 grams) do not require FAA registration. Dr. Leo Ondrovic, a member of the Saint Leo University science faculty who is a pilot and is familiar with drones, explained that such models were considered toys when the drone legislation was crafted, and by that logic, the devices were exempt from registration.

“Technology is advancing faster than legislation can keep up,” he commented. Newer drones have decreased in size and yet possess technological capabilities approaching those of earlier models, said Ondrovic.

Among those 90-plus percent of the national sample who do not have a drone, 30.7 percent are very or somewhat interested in owning one.

Age has played a role, it seems, in influencing who already has a drone. “Younger people are more likely to own drones than older respondents,” Ondrovic said. Of 18- to 35-year-olds, 17.4 percent own drones, compared to the 36- to-55-year-olds, of whom only 11 percent own drones. Of people age 56 and older, 3.3 percent say they have drones.

Hesitations About Drones
The survey asked respondents how concerned they are that there are more drones in the airspace than ever before, and people were given the options of answering as very concerned, somewhat concerned, somewhat unconcerned, not at all concerned, and unsure. About one-quarter nationally—24 percent—say they are very concerned and another 43.9 percent say they are somewhat concerned, for a combined total of 67.9 percent. That is essentially the same as in 2016, when the combined level of concern was 65.6 percent.

When those who indicate concern were asked to choose specific reasons (with multiple choices permitted), these concerns were the most prominent from the national sample:

  • Personal privacy issues–cited in 69.1 percent of responses,
  • Potential dangerous interference with airplanes­–named in 57.3 percent answers,
  • Weaponized domestic drones–indicated in 50.8 percent of responses,
  • Spying capability by government agencies on citizens–cited in 44.5 percent of responses, and
  • The devices can be hacked and controlled by non-owners–named in 44.2 of answers.

Opinions on Proper Use
The survey also asked respondents about parameters they might favor on drone usage. People were asked if they agree, either strongly or somewhat, or disagree, either strongly or somewhat, with a series of statements about the way drones can be employed by American society. (They could also indicate if they are unsure.) Results showed people strongly or somewhat agree with the statements listed here at the following percentage levels.

  • The U.S. military should continue to use drones in warfare–82.5 percent.
  • Drone operators should be required to complete training courses­–78.9 percent.
  • Drone operators should be licensed to operate­–75.1 percent.
  • I support the use of drones by community police departments–71.5 percent.
  • Drones should be banned from filming forest fires to protect planes fighting the fires–53.1 percent (this option was added to the survey in 2017, an active wildfire year domestically).
  • I support a municipal ban on drones in my own community–47.2 percent.

Interested parties can find the current FAA rules on drone operation at: FAA.

Ondrovic noted a recent and interesting exemption to FAA regulations currently in the news. The agency is allowing wireless provider AT&T to operate a drone heavier than current weight limits over Puerto Rico in order to provide cellular service to parts of the population. Cell towers were destroyed across the island when Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico in September, and recovery is slow. People have trouble making phone calls. AT&T announced in early November it received permission to use the drone temporarily while it rebuilds cell towers.

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