Drone on White House lawn leads to lockdown

A small drone landed on White House grounds late Sunday night, leading to emergency vehicles swarming the area, and the perimeter being placed on lockdown until 5:00 a.m., according to the AP. A White House spokesperson told the New York Times he did not have details about the size or make of the drone, but that the Secret Service is investigating.

The White House episode is the latest mishap involving drones, which are becoming ever more popular with average consumers. Other such mishaps include an arrest at the U.S. Open, and a ban on the devices at National Parks where tourists have harassed wildlife and crashed a device into a famous hot spring.

While Sunday’s incident posed no danger to the president, who is in India, it will provide more grist for the debate over how to regulate the ongoing proliferation of small camera-equipped unmanned aircraft.

As it stands, the FAA has been coming down hard on anyone who uses a drone for commercial purposes, such as real estate photography, but has largely left it up to local authorities to police amateur drone enthusiasts.

The result, according to Wall Street Journal columnist Gordon Crovitz, is that “We now have the worst of both worlds: Hobbyists are not effectively regulated, creating potential safety issues, while commercial development is criminalized.”

While the federal agency was supposed to have new rules for drones in place by last year, it has repeatedly missed deadlines, and now reports suggest the rules may not be ready until 2017.

As I’ve argued in the past, the U.S. should take a page from countries like France and Canada, which have developed permitting systems to encourage commercial uses, and which are considering certification processes to ensure hobbyists use the devices safely.