Regulations likely to drone on and on

During a US Army Black Hawk and DJI Phantom 4 UAV collision in September last year, the helicopter sustained damage to its main rotor blade, window frame and transmission deck while parts of the UAV were discovered lodged in its engine oil cooler.

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At the time an FAA temporary flight restriction was in place, in keeping with good practice which stipulates, ‘travel is limited because of a temporary hazardous condition, such as a wildfire or chemical spill; a security-related event…’

In this case a UN General Assembly meeting, with US President Trump in attendance, was being held in New York City.

Under other FAA restrictions all UAV flight is prohibited ‘from the ground up to 400ft’ and within five miles of an airport or helipad.

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So far, so good. Ostensibly laws are water tight. That is until state level compliance is considered.

New York is a particularly interesting test case as there is no state level regulations prohibiting UAV flight, despite the fact that several civil suits involving drone operators have been brought before the courts. ‘Reckless endangerment’ is often the charge sought by the prosecution when these cases are being debated.

New York City’s government website takes an unequivocal position, which reads, ‘If you see a drone being flown in the city, call 911.’

In contrast, the city’s department of parks and recreation website features the various locations where UAVs can be flown freely.

Allowances, it seems, cannot be made for those who wish to plead ignorance with respect to UAV ownership and responsible flying. The NTSB’s investigative report into the original September incident detailed several errors admitted to by the DJI Phantom 4 owner.

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A summary of the report states, ‘The drone operator was unaware of the collision until an NTSB investigator contacted him. The operator was also not aware of temporary flight restrictions that were in place at the time because of presidential travel and a UN general assembly session. He was flying recreationally and did not hold an FAA remote pilot certificate.’

Without more stringent regulations questions remain, even from this one incident where there were thankfully no injuries sustained by the Black Hawk aircrew or members of the public.

Who will pay for the damages caused to the helicopter? Will the US Army have to rethink how they organise and execute security centered missions when in close proximity to the civil population? Do thresholds of 400ft and upwards and five miles outside of an airport/helipad have to be similarly reassessed?

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