Think of unmanned aircraft, and drones flown over war zones come to mind. They have proved useful for reconnaissance, while keeping uniformed personnel out of harm's way.
But how would you feel about pilotless planes flying missions over the United States? A federal authority has been asked to allow unmanned aircraft for civilian and law-enforcement uses here at home.
The biggest worry apparently isn't one of privacy; presumably, the planes wouldn't go places or handle duties that can't be assigned to piloted craft. The main concern for the Federal Aviation Administration rightfully is one of safety.
While some unmanned craft are as large as a private jet, others are small enough to fit through a doorway. Thus, they might be difficult for pilots of airliners, cargo planes and corporate jets to avoid.
But the FAA needn't issue flying rights for all types of pilotless planes in one broad set of regulations. There's no reason the agency can't expand the use of drones for border patrol or allow the Coast Guard to use them for search-and-rescue missions.
We recommend authorities consider gradually expanding the roles that unmanned aircraft can perform. That way, safety concerns can be assessed and addressed before allowing more duties.