WASHINGTON, D.C. – Responding to recent incidents in which remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) — also known as drones and unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) — interfered with manned aircraft involved in fighting fires, the FAA is supporting the U.S. Department of the Interior and U.S. Forest Service in a simple message to drone operators: If you fly, we can’t.
“Flying a drone near aerial firefighting aircraft doesn’t just pose a hazard to the pilots,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “When aircraft are grounded because an unmanned aircraft is in the vicinity, lives are put at greater risk.”
Often a temporary flight restriction (TFR) is put in place around wildfires to protect firefighting aircraft. No one other than the agencies involved in firefighting 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 civil and/or criminal penalties, FAA officials warn.
Even if there is no TFR, operating an RPA could still pose a hazard to firefighting aircraft and would violate Federal Aviation Regulations.
“The FAA’s top priority is safety. 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.”
Since so many people operate unmanned aircraft with little or no aviation experience, the FAA is promoting voluntary compliance and working to educate RPA operators about how they can operate safely under current regulations and laws. The agency has partnered with industry and the modeling community in a public outreach campaign called “Know Before You Fly.”
Additionally, the FAA provided guidance to law enforcement agencies because they are often in the best position to deter, detect, investigate, and pursue enforcement actions to stop unauthorized or unsafe unmanned aircraft operations.