Billionaires at Sun Valley gathering on alert for drones

Wednesday , July 09, 2014 - 1:55 PM

Anousha Sakoui and Sarah Frier
Bloomberg News

(c) 2014, Bloomberg News.

SAN FRANCISCO — Security personnel charged with keeping reporters away from the billionaires descending upon Sun Valley, Idaho, are now on the lookout for another threat: drones.

Event staff are watching the skies this week for unmanned aerial vehicles that could photograph, harass or harm attendees at the annual Allen & Co. gathering of business executives, according to two people familiar with the plans who asked not to be named. While scouts have monitored for remote-controlled drones at previous Sun Valley retreats, they’re more prevalent this year as the flying gizmos become increasingly commonplace, said one of the people, a security official who sought anonymity because the measures are private.

Sun Valley draws some of the biggest names in technology and media, and this year’s guest list includes Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and Google’s Eric Schmidt, all of whose companies have been investing in drone technology. Twitter’s Dick Costolo, LinkedIn’s Jeff Weiner, AOL’s Tim Armstrong and Greylock Partners venture capitalist Reid Hoffman were spotted Tuesday.

Reporters and photographers are here behind the velvet ropes trying to get a glimpse of the billionaires and engage them in conversation. It’s the security company’s job to prevent the press or other event crashers from getting in by land or air.

Jack Sibbach, director of public relations at Sun Valley Resort, referred inquiries to MSA Security, which was hired for the event. A spokesman for MSA Security declined to comment. Herb Allen III, Allen & Co.‘s president and CEO, didn’t respond to a phone message left Tuesday at his New York office.

Photographs of moguls are valuable and in high demand from news agencies. As tempting as it may be to send a camera- equipped mini-copter into the event, commercial use of drones is prohibited in the U.S., according to Les Dorr, a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration.

There are exceptions for devices flown by licensed pilots who receive prior authorization from regulators. The administration is working on rules, which could come out this year, that would relax restrictions for drones under 55 pounds.



“You cannot operate any aircraft in a way that endangers the safety of people and property on the ground,” Dorr said in a phone interview. “If you’re buzzing over people, we could take enforcement action.”

Sun Valley police aren’t focused on drone prevention, Assistant Police Chief Michael Crawford said by phone. If a property owner complains about a drone, he said police would “go and try to talk to the person who was operating it.”

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