Hot Sheet

A bleak, terrifying picture of drones over Denver

Author: Adam McCoy - July 14, 2017 - Updated: July 14, 2017

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(Halftermeyer, via Wikimedia Commons)

Heading out for a sight-seeing adventure through the lens of a drone can be an exciting prospect, but the burgeoning hobby has proved to be a pain in the you-know-what for airports, emergency personnel and local municipalities.

Members of the Denver City Council’s Safety, Education and Homelessness Committee got a crash course this week on the potential havoc unmanned aerial vehicles can wreak.

Of course, drones have many, many beneficial uses, but John Putnam — an attorney with Kaplan, Kirsch & Rockwell who frequently advises major cities and airports, including Denver, on airspace issues — painted a bleak picture of the potential dangers drones pose and the rather fluid landscape of drone regulations.

The largest exposure a city like Denver likely faces is drone incidents at its airport, Putnam said.

“The best information suggests that if a drone were ingested into an engine of a 737 coming into DIA, there is a substantial chance it could take down that flight,” Putnam said.

Putnam said the Federal Aviation Administration documented about 1,800 cases of drones flying too close to airplanes last year — a 50 percent increase from the previous year.

Adding to the nightmare, Putnam posed the question: “What happens when a drone flies over Mile High on game day and releases a packet of something white? There will be panic and chaos.”

Picture a drone entering airspace where aircraft are aiding firefighters battling a wildfire. Or an inexperienced drone pilot endangering others by flying erratically. And there are even weaponized drones to ponder.

Should the city decide to start regulating drones at the local level, Putnam said it would have to go beyond an ordinance.

“This is a very complicated area that requires many layers of city investment,” he said noting the city’s drone policy would need to include training for law enforcement, public education about the legal use of drones and coordination between cites, airports the FAA and other jurisdictions among other aspects.

Putnam said enacting regulations at a local level can prove sticky. With the FAA retaining authority over all airspace above 500 feet and any airspace needed for aircraft to land and take off, there’s often a question of legal authority.

The regulatory landscape regarding drones is in flux, and it would be challenging to determine where FAA and local authority begins and ends.  

“We are lacking guidance from the federal level; we are lacking court decisions on this issue, so we’re in a period of trial and error,” he said.

“The laboratories of democracy that are our cities and counties and states are trying a bunch of these ordinances,” he said. “They will be challenged, some of them will succeed, some will fail.”

Putnam noted how many major cities started to regulate drones like Los Angeles, as well as some Colorado cities, including Telluride.

Putnam said many current laws already cover concerns many have about drones. For example, existing Peeping Tom laws might cover privacy concerns, and it is still illegal (outside of the narrow window for legal use of force) to shoot someone, whether it be by handgun or weaponized drone. It might be a matter of “optimizing” current regulations, Putnam said.

Adam McCoy

Adam McCoy

Adam McCoy covers Denver-area politics for Colorado Politics.


21 comments

  • Chris

    July 14, 2017 at 3:06 pm

    There’s actually too much wrong with this article to even start but I’ll try later

    Reply

  • Bleaky McDuck

    July 14, 2017 at 3:12 pm

    What a hot mess of misinformation and raw paranoia.

    Reply

  • Tom

    July 14, 2017 at 3:17 pm

    This is insanity! If I can say the same thing about kites. Any item in the hands of an idiot is a danger. Give me a break!

    Reply

  • Micah

    July 14, 2017 at 3:18 pm

    There is so much bad information in this article. DIA is 45 minutes away from downtown denver in the middle of nowhere. More laws won’t stop a terrorist from releasing “something white” over a baseball field you idiot.

    Reply

  • Patrick

    July 14, 2017 at 3:20 pm

    Tennis racquets are also terrifying if you think about it. Imagine a knife tied to one, or a terrorist winning the US Open!!! More people have been seriously injured by tennis and its “equipment” than have been hurt by a drone.

    Don’t get me started on those forks that come with grilling sets.

    We need MORE LAWS!

    Reply

  • CLINT HARRIS

    July 14, 2017 at 3:24 pm

    Obviously everyone mentioned in this publication is clueless and completely misinformed on so many levels… Just to correct everything here would make for a great story…

    Reply

  • Dusty Birge

    July 14, 2017 at 3:38 pm

    There are drone concerns but this article isn’t even close to accurate. Very narrow focused and click bait.

    Reply

  • Kerry

    July 14, 2017 at 3:41 pm

    Easily the worst article and misinformation on the topic I have seen in quite a while.

    “The best information suggests that if a drone were ingested into an engine of a 737 coming into DIA, there is a substantial chance it could take down that flight,” Putnam said.
    – Totally untrue, FAA reports suggest an exceptionally low risk to an airliner.

    Putnam said the Federal Aviation Administration documented about 1,800 cases of drones flying too close to airplanes last year — a 50 percent increase from the previous year.
    – Totally untrue – go read the report yourself. The “reports” include any and all sightings, not “near airplanes”

    Adding to the nightmare, Putnam posed the question: “What happens when a drone flies over Mile High on game day and releases a packet of something white? There will be panic and chaos.
    – Why a drone? Why not a small aircraft that could carry much more lethal, and larger weapons or toxins.

    With the FAA retaining authority over all airspace above 500 feet and any airspace needed for aircraft to land and take off, there’s often a question of legal authority.
    – Totally untrue – FAA controls ALL space that begins at ground level

    The regulatory landscape regarding drones is in flux, and it would be challenging to determine where FAA and local authority begins and ends
    – Totally untrue. The FAA has sent letters to local governments making it very clear what they can and cannot do

    “We are lacking guidance from the federal level; we are lacking court decisions on this issue, so we’re in a period of trial and error,”
    – Totally untrue, see previous statement

    Putnam noted how many major cities started to regulate drones like Los Angeles, as well as some Colorado cities, including Telluride.
    – Wrong again, they can only regulate the take off, landing, and operation from their actual property

    Putnam said many current laws already cover concerns many have about drones. For example, existing Peeping Tom laws might cover privacy concerns….It might be a matter of “optimizing” current regulations, Putnam said.
    – Do a little research. Drone operators worked with our state senate two years to help create some of the best privacy laws in the entire country.

    In summary, Putnam is a misinformed idiot.

    Reply

    • Vic Moss

      July 15, 2017 at 6:40 am

      Spot on!

      Reply

    • Mike

      July 15, 2017 at 1:14 pm

      And McCoy was negligent in failing to confirm any of the misinformation he spouted in this travesty of journalism.

      Reply

    • Jon Elliott

      July 16, 2017 at 2:06 pm

      Nailed it.

      Reply

  • Kade

    July 14, 2017 at 3:41 pm

    This article screams cheesy sci-fi original movie. A drone will do less damage than most of wildlife flying in Colorado. I get that fear and ignorance are at record highs but pull it back buddy.

    Reply

  • Lance

    July 14, 2017 at 5:30 pm

    Where to even start. Poorly researched commentary meant to beef up the writers solicitation of more billable man hours.

    Reply

  • Travis

    July 15, 2017 at 6:25 am

    WTH? Before jumping to conclusions, this reporter needs to do some background studying on how sUAV companies are making their drones. Then maybe he would understand that the majority of them can’t fly in a no fly zone such as larger airports or over special event areas such as Major league gaming events. I think he had it out for drones well before he ever wrote the article. One sided news reports? Where have we seen this before?

    Reply

  • Vic Moss

    July 15, 2017 at 6:34 am

    “…John Putnam — an attorney with Kaplan, Kirsch & Rockwell who frequently advises major cities and airports, including Denver, on airspace issues…”

    “Putnam said enacting regulations at a local level can prove sticky. With the FAA retaining authority over all airspace above 500 feet and any airspace needed for aircraft to land and take off, there’s often a question of legal authority.”

    Those two quotes together should scare the living daylights out of every major city and airport that Mr. Putnam has ever “advised”.

    It’s asinine to even believe that. It flies (no pun intended) in the face of simple logic.

    Regard this scenario:

    Mr. Smith has a large tract of land in Aurora. Mr. Smith builds and homebuilt a short take off and landing aircraft (STOL). Mr. Smith reads this article (or talks to Mr. Putnam), and decides he’s free to not register his new aircraft and get a pilots license, as long as he flies under 500′ where ever he goes.

    Because as Mr. Putnam states, the FAA retains airspace over 500′ and where they land. So the FAA only cares about Mr. Smith when he launches and lands.

    In my scenario, Mr. Smith goes to jail. And Mr. Putnam finds himself with a date at Colorado Supreme Court
    Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel.

    Nobody wins!

    And much of the other article is conjecture and heresy. And those are the only nice things decorum allows me to say.

    Reply

  • TW

    July 15, 2017 at 7:01 am

    This is a paranoid, uneducated article of drones. Anything in the wrong hands is dangerous including a cell phone with video and camera capabilities that people carry with them into bathrooms and various places where cameras shouldn’t be allowed. Do you have an article on something more worrisome like that?

    Reply

  • Scott Steward

    July 15, 2017 at 12:31 pm

    Dear Author, you are an ignorant idiot.

    Reply

  • Jenn Grover

    July 16, 2017 at 2:12 pm

    The previous comments do a nice job of dismantling the false information and paranoid nature of the article.

    However, let’s think about the primary source for the article. What qualifies an attorney to consult regarding air safety? Let’s make no mistake, Putnam’s interest is in his business…which is getting cities to pay him to help them regulate. If not policy is needed, he has no new business.

    Do they teach anything at journalism schools these days?

    #fakenews

    Reply

  • DroneWolf Media

    July 16, 2017 at 9:59 pm

    It’s sad that “stories” like this even get printed. What’s worse is the general public probably won’t bother to read the comments showing just how far off this entire article is!

    Reply

  • David Everett

    July 17, 2017 at 5:44 am

    Must have been a slow news day, or the editor threw this item in the direction of a new reporter to see how he does – Fail! Are drones now the low-hanging fruit of the media? Total misinformation and fear mongering. “Ground” this writer, please…

    Reply

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