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'Iron Man' Jet Packs for Tourists Trigger Legal Concerns

By Aditi Mukherji, JD on August 09, 2013 2:00 PM

"Iron Man" jet packs are making a big splash in Hawaii -- literally and figuratively. But they're also raising some potential legal concerns.

How do they work? Basically, you strap on a jet pack that propels you through the air via pumped water. It's fun, potentially dangerous, and possibly harmful to the environment. But who cares if you look like a dolphin on steroids, right?

Well, Hawaiian officials don't agree. Here's the low-down on the jet packs and why they may soon come under heavy regulation:

Commercial Jetpacks

One commercial jet pack called the Jetlev can shoot a person 30 feet high by "pumping water from a backpack through a hose connected to a small, unmanned boat," according to The Associated Press. The rider, using hand-held throttles, controls the speed of up to 25 miles per hour and height of up to 30 feet.

Another device called the Flyboard has a different design -- a little snowboard with a hose attached -- and can send a person 45 feet in the air.

Raising Concerns

There are growing concerns about the jet packs' potential safety hazards. The overarching concern, of course, is that the packs make riders go too high and too fast. To ensure the safety of customers, some companies control the throttle of the jet packs remotely.

Still, when you take a tourist's hand-held throttle and combine it with a personal mantra of "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger," you have a recipe for injuries -- and potential liability.

Speed and height concerns aside, some jet pack maneuvers -- like dive bombing into the water next to moving boats -- are also alarming state officials. In addition, there are concerns about riders injuring themselves by crashing into reefs.

Fishermen and marine biologists are worried about the noise of the jet packs because fish tend to avoid loud areas. There is also concern that fish and coral larvae may get pumped through the equipment and die.

More Regulations?

Due to the range of concerns surrounding the new activity, Hawaii's Department of Land and Natural Resources held a public meeting to determine whether the devices need stronger regulations, according to the AP.

A few jet pack companies open to more regulations suggested that the jet pack industry be given a designated area.

The scope and focus of the review haven't yet been determined.

Until then, hang loose and stay safe.

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