NDF: Drone flyers may be fined if drones aren't grounded during fires

LAS VEGAS - The Nevada Division of Forestry encourages owners of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), also known as drones, to keep them on the ground during a fire and let firefighters and aircraft workers to do what they can to stop fires as quickly and safely as possible.

“If we find a drone in the area of our air operation, we first have to, for safety reasons, we have to close the airspace and shut down our operations,” said Bob Roper, state forester, Nevada Division of Forestry.

Due to recent incidents in which drones have interfered with manned aircraft involved in wildland firefighting operations, NDF wants drone owners to understand that flying drones interfere with the protection of lives, property and Nevada's natural resources.

"If they fly, we can't," says Nevada Firewarden, Bob Roper. "It's a major risk to pilots, ground personnel, and aircraft. There may also be civil and/or criminal consequences that Nevada operators need to know about."

While Nevada fire crews have not encountered any drones, California officials say they have.

“"In fact, in just the past month, we have had about a dozen incidents here in California where a hobby drone have flown in the same airspace as our aircraft,” said Daniel Berlant, California Fire Department’s chief of public information.

In fact, California officials are offering a reward of $75,000 in rewards to find drone operators who caused delays at three different wildfires, including the North Fire in the Cajon Pass earlier this month.  California is also considering legislation that would allow first responders to shoot down drones interfering with firefighting operations

Berlant says drones are small, but they’re also very dangerous to pilots.  It turns out they fly at the same low altitudes as firefighting helicopters and tankers attacking the flames.

"It could cause injuries to our pilots as well as to the crew, in the air and on the ground,” Berlant said.  “Even worse, it could cause a mid-air collision and crash.”

"In many cases, certainly around other aircraft, it's dangerous, Ron Futrell, of ArrowData said.

The Nevada Division of Forestry says a temporary flight restriction is often put in place around wildfires to protect firefighting aircraft. No one other than the agencies involved in the firefighting effort can fly any manned or unmanned aircraft in such a TFR.

Anyone who violates a TFR and endangers the safety of manned aircraft could be subject to penalties, according to the FAA.

"If you endanger manned aircraft or people on the ground with an unmanned aircraft, you could be liable for a fine ranging from $1,000 to a maximum of $25,000," said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. "Know the rules before you fly. If you don't, serious penalties could be coming your way for jeopardizing these important missions."

Here is a list of drone do's and don’t's that the legislature passed.  The bill won’t be in effect until October 2015.

  • You are allowed to operate drones in Nevada.
  • You can fly it over land and water as long as you are not doing anything dangerous to other people or property; interfering with other use of the land/water; infringing on property rights.
  • You can’t weaponize a drone. (Section 18)
  • You can’t operate a drone near critical facilities or airports unless you have approval from the FAA/facility owner (section 18.5).
  • You can be charged w/ trespassing if you fly a drone over private property, depending on how low you fly it, (250 feet) and whether or not you were warned by the property owner not to do so. (Section 19)
  • Exceptions: If it's for legitimate business, surveying or federal use and doesn’t really interfere with the property owner’s use of the property, then you are off the hook.
  • Law enforcement agencies and public agencies can’t operate drones for searches without a warrant.
  • Law enforcement can operate drones under certain emergency circumstances like crime prevention, consent in writing, search and rescue, imminent danger to public safety, declaration of a state of emergency.
  • Other government departments can operate drones as long as they are registered with the Dept of Public Safety. These drones need to follow guidelines from this department. (Section 21)
  • Data gathered by unlawfully by drones can’t be used to prosecute a crime or offense.
  • Dept of Public Safety needs to maintain a registry of drones and how they’re used by government agencies in the state.
  • Drone operators are liable for operation of the vehicle over heavily populated areas/public gatherings
  • UAVs cannot be operated while drunk or in a reckless manner.

More information can be found at http://knowbeforeyoufly.org.
 


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