Police Advised on Drone Rules as FAA Seeks Enforcement Help

Updated on

Aviation regulators are seeking help from local police to tame the increase of small drone operators endangering aircraft and people on the ground.

The Federal Aviation Administration today issued a 12-page guide to law enforcement agencies on how to handle encounters with operators of unmanned aircraft and gather evidence in the event legal action is needed.

“The proliferation of small, relatively inexpensive unmanned aircraft presents the Federal Aviation Administration with a challenge in identifying people who don’t follow the rules of the air or who endanger the nation’s airspace,” the agency said in a news release on its website.

The release is part of the agency’s response to growing safety incidents as thousands of people without aviation experience have begun flying small unmanned aircraft. The FAA logged 193 cases of drones flying near aircraft, buildings or crowds from Feb. 22 through Nov. 11.

The FAA’s goal is to educate users, “but the guidance makes clear the agency’s authority to pursue legal enforcement action against persons who endanger the safety of the National Airspace System,” the agency said in the release.

“There is evidence of a considerable increase in the unauthorized use of” small drones, the FAA said in the guidance.

It advised police to identify witnesses, conduct initial interviews and to contact drone operators suspected of violating flight rules. Police are often in a better position to detect violations and to gather evidence than the FAA’s own inspectors, the agency said.

Education Campaign

The FAA on Dec. 22 began a drone-safety campaign entitled Know Before You Fly along with a group representing hobbyists and two trade groups. The Consumer Electronics Association endorsed the effort yesterday in a press conference at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Safety incidents reported to the FAA have grown to more than 40 per month, according to data reported for the first time in November.

At least 17 airline crews reported close calls with drones since September, according to the agency. Pilots on three aircraft nearing New York’s LaGuardia Airport each reported having “a very close call” with a drone on Sept. 8, it said.

The FAA oversees drone flights through a variety of guidance and regulations. Its power was upheld Nov. 18 in a ruling by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board.

Hobbyists who fly drones for recreation may do so without permission of the agency as long as they follow the guidelines of groups that sponsor local flying groups, such as the Muncie, Indiana-based Academy of Model Aeronautics.

The AMA’s safety guidelines say flights should be within 400 feet of the ground and away from public areas. Congress in a 2012 law said drone pilots flying within 5 miles (8 kilometers) of an airport should get FAA permission.

U.S. regulations prohibit all aircraft, including drones, from flying over large sporting events or security-sensitive areas, such as Washington, D.C.

(Updates with FAA statement in fifth paragraph.)
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