Drone pilots who interfere with fighting wildfires, law enforcement efforts, or other first responders, such as medical flights, are more likely to face serious civil penalties, even for first-time offenses, according to FAA officials.
The FAA has provided guidance for agency personnel who handle possible drone violations to refer all cases involving interference with first responders to the FAA Chief Counsel’s office for possible enforcement action, officials report.
In July 2016, Congress authorized the FAA to impose a civil penalty of up to $20,000 for anyone who operates a drone and “deliberately or recklessly interferes with wildfire suppression, law enforcement, or emergency response efforts.”
FAA inspectors generally use non-enforcement methods, including education, for correcting unintentional violations that arise from factors such as flawed systems, simple mistakes, or lack of understanding.
“However, given the potential for direct and immediate interference with potentially life-saving operations where minutes matter, offenders will immediately be considered for enforcement actions,” FAA officials said. “Enforcement actions can include revocation or suspension of a pilot certificate, and up to a $20,000 civil penalty per violation.”
According to FAA officials, deterring interference with first responders is critical, particularly as the use of drones expands exponentially.
“Firefighting aircraft trying to contain a wildfire have to suspend flights when a drone enters the area to avoid a possible mid-air collision,” agency officials said. “A drone flying over a crime scene or accident site can hamper police or medical aircraft operations. Ultimately, interference by a drone can cost lives.”
“The FAA’s rules for flying unmanned aircraft are clear. Pilots can save themselves and others serious problems by following them to the letter,” FAA officials conclude. “Don’t let your decision to fly cause someone else to die.”