NEWS: Drones over Wildfires May Soon Be Felony

NEWS: Drones over Wildfires May Soon Be Felony

June 28, 2018 2 Comments

June 28 -- People caught flying a drone over a wildfire could face federal felony charges if three of Colorado’s federal lawmakers convince Congress to pass their bill.

Sens. Cory Gardner (R-Colorado), Michael Bennet (D-Colorado) and Rep. Scott Tipton (R-Cortez) introduced the Securing Airspace For Emergency Responders Act Wednesday.

The bill would fine people convicted of flying unauthorized drones and possibly send them to jail for a year.

“When an unauthorized drone flies over a wildfire, it poses a huge threat to aircrafts working to suppress the fire and forces them to ground,” Tipton said in a statement.

That’s true.

Flying over a wildfire isn’t easy. Pilots navigate smoky, windy and turbulent conditions with little visibility, said Steve Hall, a spokesman for Colorado’s office of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

A drone, which might be small and hard to see, could do a lot of damage if it hit a helicopter.

Fire crews ground planes when someone spots an unauthorized drone, Hall said.

That’s what happened earlier this month at the Bocco Fire near Wolcott in Eagle County. Helicopters and tanker crews stopped dropping buckets of water on the emerging fire for an hour after someone spotted a drone.

“During that time you don’t have all of those valuable tools to hopefully catch a fire before it gets too big,” Hall said.

Federal lawmakers aren’t the only ones thinking about ways to deter people from trying to snap that perfect shot of a wildfire.

Colorado’s legislature passed a law during the 2018 session making it a misdemeanor to fly a drone in a way that impedes a police officer, firefighter, emergency medical service provider or rescue team.

When the state law goes into effect in August drone operators who are convicted could face a $1,000 fine and up to one year in jail.

The Federal Aviation Administration also has the authority to fine drone operators who fly over restricted air space.

___ (c)2018 The Denver Post Visit The Denver Post at Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

2 Responses

Darrell L Hook
Darrell L Hook

June 29, 2018

This is already part of the Part 107 FAA guidelines. We don’t need laws on top of laws on top of laws. Same goes for the law using drones to impede law enforcement. These are already part of the Part 107 Code. While I believe a lot of law makers truly have their constituents best interests at heart, a lot of them don’t and try to do things like this just for the show of it. The FAA has the final say on anything in the US and it’s territories. Get the information to them and they will handle it. I believe that you will find that a lot of the punishments handed down by the FAA are really tough.

Andrew H
Andrew H

June 29, 2018

This makes sense because it’s also illegal to fly an unauthorized UAV within 5 miles of an active airport without first communicating with the airport. In the case of a wildfire, the area becomes essentially an emergency airport of sorts.

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