Authorities in Utah can now legally disable or destroy drones near wildfires

Discussion in 'Drone Safety & Regulations - Know Before You Fly' started by nathan, Jul 13, 2016.

  1. nathan Administrator

    nathan

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    SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah lawmakers voted Wednesday to allow authorities to disable or damage unauthorized drones near wildfires after at least one has plagued firefighters in the southern part of the state.

    The bill lawmakers approved in a special session would also impose harsher penalties on people caught flying the aircraft, with the maximum punishment of 15 years in prison and $15,000 fine if a drone causes a firefighting aircraft to crash.

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    Bill sponsor Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, said that while the bill does allow firefighters or law enforcement to shoot down a drone, he doubts they'd do so because the unmanned aircraft fly so high and it would be difficult to do. Instead, fire officials or law enforcement officers are expected to use technology that jams signals to crash drones.

    Vickers told The Associated Press that the state highway patrol and National Guard already have the technology.

    "The redneck in me is just to shoot the damn thing," Vickers told lawmakers, adding that it was much more "humane" to jam the drone's signal.

    He said the technology allows officials to target a specific drone and can be used without hurting other nearby aircraft or technology.

    It does not appear any state currently allows a drone to be disabled specifically for flying over a wildfire. Louisiana has a law allowing police or firefighters to disable a drone if it endangers the public or an officer, said Amanda Essex, who researches state unmanned aircraft policies for the National Conference of State Legislatures.

    Gov. Gary Herbert is expected to sign the bill into law within days.

    The Republican said before the vote that the costs of fighting a small wildfire burning about 300 miles south of Salt Lake City would have been several million dollars if five drone flights hadn't interfered.

    "Now we're way past, north of $10 million because we had to ground aircraft all because of a drone," Herbert said.

    The Washington County Sheriff's Office has been investigating drones flying near the fire, which is burning on a rocky ridge above the town of Pine Valley, but no arrests have been made or suspects identified. The sheriff's office has offered a $1,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest.

    A handful of states, including Utah, have laws making it a crime to fly a drone that interferes with manned aircraft or firefighting operations. Those laws could be used to charge someone flying near wildfires or interfering with firefighters using tankers, helicopters and other manned aircraft.

    Earlier this year, Utah lawmakers considering allowing law enforcement to shoot down drones that interfere with emergency workers, but they backed away from the idea. Other states have proposed shooting down drones, but it hasn't become law, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

    Utah instead passed a law earlier this year making it a crime to fly the unmanned aircraft near a wildfire. The penalties involved fines of up to $2,500 and jail time if a drone flying near a fire stops aircraft from flying or dropping water or retardant. If a drone actually collided with an aircraft or caused it to crash, the drone pilot could face up to 15 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

    Under the legislation approved Wednesday, those fines would all be higher, with the maximum fine at $15,000.

    Rep. Brian Greene, R-Pleasant Grove, was one of two lawmakers to vote against the legislation. He said he had no problem disabling drones but was concerned that lawmakers were enhancing fines on a law so new that no one had even been cited yet.

    The law would also allow courts to make a drone pilot pay damages.
     
  2. Stephen Mann Member

    Stephen Mann

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    What? There's no laws that already make interfering with a firefighter a violation?

    Seriously, if someone is caught flying a drone that interferes with firefighting efforts, then use existing laws to prosecute them. Putting up yet another "no trespassing" sign only keeps out the people who wouldn't fly near a fire in the first place.

    It's interesting that the Governor of Utah thinks he can indemnify state employees from federal law.

    Federal law prohibits the operation, marketing, or sale of any type of jamming equipment, including devices that interfere with cellular and Personal Communication Services (PCS), police radar, Global Positioning Systems (GPS), and wireless networking services (Wi-Fi).

    18 U.S.C. § 1362 and 1367(a) - prohibits willful or malicious interference to US government communications, including GPS signals.
    47 U.S.C. § 333 - "No person shall willfully or maliciously interfere with or cause interference to any radio communications of any station licensed or authorized by or under this Act or operated by the United States Government."

    18 U.S. Code §32 - Destruction of aircraft or aircraft facilities, which states:
    (a) Whoever willfully—
    (1) sets fire to, damages, destroys, disables, or wrecks any aircraft in the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States or any civil aircraft used, operated, or employed in interstate, overseas, or foreign air commerce;
    ... shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years or both.

    If it’s already illegal to interfere with firefighting activities, then why do you need a new law just because of the method used? Is it to fuel your fear of personal drones? Is it to justify your paranoia over drones? What is so special about drones that make new laws necessary? Why would any person with a touch of common sense think that a new law is required?

    Keep the risk of personal drones in perspective.

    There have been more than a million hours of flight of small drones, yet there is not one verifiable report of a drone crash in the US that resulted in a serious injury as defined by the NTSB* to someone not connected to the flight. Not one. It is a safety rate that all other segments of aviation would be jealous to have. There is also not one verifiable report of a collision between a small drone and a manned aircraft. Not one.

    * A band-aid is not a serious injury. CFR 49 §830.2 contains the definition of "Serious Injury" that the FAA and NTSB use in their aircraft and vehicular accident statistics.
     
  3. nathan Administrator

    nathan

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    It's not just about the firefighting, but also interfering with manned aircraft trying to fight a fire. Disabling a drone, or drones in this case, and then being able to assess penalties seems justified. Grounding manned aircraft because half a dozen drone pilots want a picture is ridiculous.
     
  4. Stephen Mann Member

    Stephen Mann

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    You completely missed my point. "If it's already illegal - why do you need a new law?"

    Jamming devices and disabling a drone are violations of federal law and the Governor cannot grant clemency or immunization for a state employee violating federal law.

    Interfering with firefighters is already illegal. A new law targeting drones only amplifies irrational drone paranoia.
    Interfering with aircraft is also already illegal by FAA rules and since the FAA has exclusive Sovereignty of airspace (49 USC § 40103), the state cannot enact any laws regulating flight.
     
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