This holiday season, Santa’s sleigh may be pulled by drones.
Around one million of the popular buzzing devices could be given as presents over the holidays this year, a Federal Aviation Administration official said at a recent conference, according to Aviation Week.
The FAA told NBC News on Thursday that the number is not an official administration projection for holiday sales — but that doesn't mean it's not taking the potential proliferation of gifted drones seriously.
FAA assistant administrator Rich Swayze was at the industry summit talking about the broader issue faced by the FAA — how to balance a growing industry around civilian drone use with privacy and safety concerns for Americans who just want to have a backyard pool party without a neighbor’s drone snapping photos.
“We know tens of thousands of small unmanned aircraft are operating in the U.S. today and many thousands more will be sold in the coming months and years,” an FAA spokesperson said in a statement. “Since there are so many people operating model UAS with little to no aviation experience, the FAA has a number of educational initiatives with our government, industry and model aircraft community partners.”
While some people see the propeller-driven aircraft as an updated version of the remote control helicopters that have been around for years, others — including the FAA — have raised concerns about how and where they can be used. Commercial airports around the world have reported close calls between drones and passenger airplanes.
The FAA has taken a cautious approach to incorporating civilian drones into American skies, and last year teamed up with the industry days before Christmas to launch a campaign for safe drone use.
The FAA said it is taking similar precautionary measures this year.
“In June, after Wal-Mart announced plans to sell UAS at stores during the holiday season, the company contacted the FAA for information about the rules hobbyists should know before they fly,” the FAA spokesperson said on Thursday. “We provided Wal-Mart with the status of the small UAS rule and with information it could relay to store managers and sales associates. The FAA stands ready to provide any additional guidance or assistance that Walmart or any other retailer might need to help its customers understand how to safely operate these aircraft.”