The drone dilemma: are they the new selfie sticks?

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Many properties now ban the use of selfie sticks for safety reasons but should all travel brands be considering no-drone zones? Andrew Hennigan investigates

On YouTube it’s not hard to find spectacular aerial videos of cruise ships leaving port, taken by people using consumer-grade camera drones launched from the shore. Take a look at this view of the cruise ship Oasis of the Seas shot by an operator more than two kilometres away. But any passenger hoping to capture similar images on the open sea is likely to be disappointed because, for the most part, drones are banned.

Cruise lines ban the use of camera drones primarily as a safety measure - popular consumer drones with their camera payload can weigh several kilos and could cause serious injury if they hit someone. There are, however, are also concerns about security and privacy. The bans are clearly marked in the small print. In Royal Caribbean International’s list of items not allowed onboard we find ‘Aerial Drones’ between skateboards and martial arts gear. And the Carnival Cruise’s restricted items list (items for port use only) includes ‘camera drones’. Cruise operators are reluctant to discuss the enforcement of these policies, but tales of would-be drone pilots on cruise forums confirms that when security staff spot a drone, it is usually taken away for safe-keeping.

…tales of would-be drone pilots on cruise forums confirms that when security staff spot a drone, it is usually taken away for safe-keeping

Many other destinations and attractions are equally strict about enforcing no drone zones. Most theme parks already ban handheld cameras on rides and don’t allow unauthorised camera drones, though they are more difficult to stop since they can be launched from far outside the park. Drone bans in theme parks are mostly for safety too, though there are some security concerns in any crowded venue. With this in mind ten years ago Disney World in Florida convinced the authorities to make a blanket no fly zone over the site, a ban that covers all aircraft and drones. Now the company is trying to negotiate an exception to the rule to fly its own drones during evening fireworks shows. In some areas the question is moot anyway because they are close to other no-drone zones like airports and until recently the entire Washington DC area was a no-fly zone.

Safari parks and wildlife travel operators are also banning non-professional drone use, mostly out of concern for animals, which may be disturbed by their noise and movement, but also because they may be used by poachers.

Many other locations that tourists might like to view from above using a camera drone are also off limits. Anyone trying to film the Mount Rushmore monument in South Dakota will soon find that there is a blanket ban on drone use throughout the US National Park system. The number of YouTube aerial videos of the monument shows that this doesn’t keep drones out, but just forces people to launch them from further away.

No-drone signs increasingly common

Visitors to San Francisco will also find that ‘No Drone Zone’ signs went up on the Golden Gate Bridge recently too. Some of the land nearby belongs to the National Park service where drones are already banned, but new signs are being placed in the parking areas and other places where people might be tempted to launch their drones.

Soon the ‘No Drone Zone’ symbol will be added to the ‘No Selfie Sticks’ symbol already signposted in many locations. But enforcing bans is not always so easy.

When there is an obvious security checkpoint, like on cruise ships, drones can be recognised quite easily by security staff, parks, resorts and other large properties, which are vulnerable to over flights from drones launched outside the boundaries. This is a problem for legislation and law enforcement, though there are some other solutions being considered. US Drone maker DJI has already introduced a ‘geo-fencing’ system for its drones that blocks any flight in forbidden airspaces, including temporary restrictions over stadium events and forest fires. In the meantime, more and more hobbyists are buying camera drones, another headache that the travel industry could do without.

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