The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is warning pilots of unmanned aircraft (“UAS,” or more popularly “drones”) not to interfere with fighting wildfires. When firefighting aircraft have to be grounded due to an unauthorized drone flight, there are serious risks not just to first responders but also to anyone in the fire’s path.
FAA Acting Administrator, Dan Elwell, said, “If you own a drone, DO NOT fly near or over a wildfire – it’s against the law, and firefighting aircraft could be grounded, disrupting time-critical firefighting efforts. Your hobby is not worth another person’s life.”
The U.S. Department of the Interior’s regulation 43 CFR 9212.1(f) (PDF) states that it is illegal to resist or interfere with the efforts of firefighter(s) to extinguish a fire.
In 2016, the U.S. Forest service reported that unauthorized drone caused firefighting aircraft to ground at least 13 times, meaning fires were potentially burning much longer than they otherwise would.
Doing so can result in fines that exceed $20,000 and potential criminal prosecution.
Deterring interference with first responders, as well as giving way to other aircraft in the sky, becomes more important as drone use expands exponentially.
The FAA’s rules for flying unmanned aircraft are clear. Keep your drone away from other aircraft operations, including aerial firefighting missions.
You just might save someone’s life.