Drones: They are the new rage with millions now in the hands of hobbyists across the nation. They hoover, dive and provide amazing videos of dramatic scenery and inaccessible areas. While unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) can provide exciting new ways to recreate and view your neighborhood, they are also threatening firefighting operations across the U.S. The incidence of unauthorized drones spotted in fire areas across the country has increased dramatically the past few years, and the situation appears to be getting worse.

Unmanned aircraft have disrupted and canceled water and retardant drops because of the fear of a collision with firefighting planes. It’s also a hazard to smoke jumpers, helicopters and crews on the ground. Flying a drone near a fire is not only dangerous, it is illegal.

Anyone caught interfering with firefighting operations with a drone can be arrested and could face a $25,000 fine and criminal prosecution.

The following are some new strategies being employed to alert UAS pilots to areas they cannot fly, and to stop them if they do.

The FAA has is creating temporary “no-fly zones” around fires and making the information available to pilots of all types, especially recreational drone users. The FAA is urging all UAS operators to visit and download the B 4UFLY smartphone app that provides the restrictions in their area.

The U.S. Department of Interior has launched the “If YOU Fly, We Can’t” campaign with videos, PSAs and posters alerting drone owners of the risks.

Technology is also being tested to prevent drones from flying in areas where a restriction is in place. GPS and geo-fencing systems can literally ground a UAS in a fire-restricted area. The electronic blocking is already being employed around airports, military bases, nuclear power plants and the nation’s capital.

Keep in mind, it often takes a day or two before fires are noted and mapped for the system and the FAA warns that all pilots, including drone operators, are responsible for knowing the rules and local ordinances. In other words, you are responsible for flight safety at all times and can be cited for any careless or reckless actions that endanger others in the air or on the ground.

The FAA requires all operators to be 13 years or older and to register any drones that weigh more than .55 pounds. All UAS pilots must also adhere to these rules:

  • Fly no higher than 400 feet
  • Keep the UAS within sight
  • Never fly near other aircraft, especially near airports
  • Never fly over groups of people, stadiums or sporting events
  • Never fly near emergency response efforts such as fires
  • Never fly under the influence
  • Be aware of airspace requirements

All the restrictions can be viewed at https://www.faa.gov/uas/getting_started/fly_for_fun/.

Education about the risk is considered the key to preventing more of these situations. If you have a drone, you need to know the rules of where and when to fly and be aware of the dangers to others. If you are a first responder, you may want to share this information with as many people as possible.

Firefighter’s jobs are already dangerous enough, that’s why California Casualty is asking all of us to be careful and know important drone rules that can save lives.

California Casualty

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