SAINT LEO, FL – Just about everybody understands what a drone is, but a new survey from the Saint Leo University Polling Institute shows the public is divided in its thinking about whether civilian drones would make great package-delivery vehicles or are nuisances that should be banned.

The latest poll from the Saint Leo University Institute was conducted online among 1,001 adults nationally from November 27 through November 30, 2016. A parallel survey of 501 adults was conducted in Florida, where the weather is better for flying drones during more months of the year.

More than 8 in 10 respondents, 84 percent, agreed this year that they were either very aware of or somewhat aware of unmanned aerial vehicles, more popularly known as drones. That was up slightly from 78.4 percent last year, when the institute first polled on drones as they became widely available for sale to consumers for personal interest and to businesses for use in surveying and marketing properties, mapping, and advertising. Law enforcement agencies have also been using drones for traffic and road accident observation as well as search-and-rescue operations.

As the public has grown more familiar with drones, and perhaps more aware of Federal Aviation Administration safety regulations governing their use, some things changed from 2015 to 2016. Last year, 73.1 percent of respondents nationally were either very concerned or somewhat concerned about the presence of drones in airspace. This year, that declined somewhat, to 65.6 percent—still a significant level. Often-reported reasons for concern this year were potentially dangerous interference with airplanes (70 percent) and personal privacy issues (71.5 percent).

The public indicated it likes drones for some uses in society. There is high support for use by community police departments (72 percent combined strongly or somewhat agreeing with the practice), in warfare (86.3 percent combined agreement), and as a military alternative to deployment of ground troops (69.1 percent combined agreement).

How much is too much?

More than one-third of respondents, 36.8 percent, see drones having potential benefits to consumer society. They agreed either strongly (12 percent) or somewhat (24.8 percent) with the statement: “I would be open to receiving deliveries by drone from such companies as Amazon or Walmart.” Nearly half, 47.9 percent, either strongly or somewhat disagreed with the statement, though. Another 15.3 percent were unsure.

The survey also found that 43.4 percent of respondents strongly or somewhat agreed that they would support a municipal ban on drones within their own communities. Basically the same proportion, 41.1 percent would not support a drone ban, and 15.5 percent were unsure.

The varying sentiments make for a stalemate in the public sphere, observed Dr. Leo Ondrovic, a member of the Saint Leo University science faculty and a licensed pilot. “You can’t want to ban them, and also want to fly them or have them deliver packages!”

Personal-use market

Ondrovic noted that 21.8 percent of respondents nationally said that they are very or somewhat interested in owning a drone. The most frequently occurring reason for the appeal is that having a drone looks like a fun hobby to those people interested at 87.6 percent. That far outstripped other possible reasons such as wanting to see an aerial view of one’s own property (33.3 percent) or having a security reason (20.5 percent).

While the reported ownership interest is down from last year’s level of 35.1 percent, retailers of all kinds have been marketing drones heavily this year. And the survey found 9.7 percent of respondents either have purchased a drone this holiday season, or probably will do so.

The percent of people who already have purchased a drone was low at only 3.5 percent (slightly higher in Florida at 5 percent). Among that small group, though, 73.5 percent nationally and a similar level in Florida said either they have already taken a course in flying a drone or are willing to do so.

“The responses suggest that drone operators are serious about obeying the FAA regulations, and presumably about preserving their investment in the drone,” Ondrovic said. “There are technical and legal aspects that must be considered. But the public should know the mentality of average drone operators is pretty serious. It’s not just, ‘Unbox it and fly it.’ ’’