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Drone pilots sign up in droves to fly during emergencies

Nearly a fifth of FAA drone exemptions are for people who want to fly in a crisis.
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

You may see a lot of stories about civilian drone operators causing chaos during emergencies, but it's clearer than ever that many of them are willing to help out, too. Bard College has published Federal Aviation Administration commercial drone exemption requests showing that a hefty 19 percent of requests from the last quarter of 2015 mentioned emergency services -- six times as many as reported several months earlier. In theory, that could lead to a lot of private pilots helping officials with search and rescue missions or other critical situations.

That doesn't mean that the drone owners are guaranteed to fly, though. The FAA tells The Verge that there can easily be other legal restrictions keeping them on the ground. Also, this is sometimes a catch-all for activities the pilot might be asked to do, rather than the primary goal. Even if they never intend to help officials in a crisis, though, this poses a problem. It suggests that exemption requests are getting out of hand for both applicants (who are so worried about the rules that they apply just in case) and the FAA itself (which allows those broad exemptions). It may take a while before cooler heads prevail and pilots only get exemptions that they're likely to need.

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