FAA Offers Law Enforcement Advice for Dealing with Drone Violations
Thursday, September 08, 2016 | Comments

With the implementation of new rules governing their use, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) could see an increase in use. During a webinar, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) offered law-enforcement agencies guidance for dealing with commercial UAVs and potential violations of the rules in their communities.

The FAA approved rules for commercial use of UAVs in June, and the rules became effective Aug. 29. While the Part 107 rules are described as governing commercial use, they cover activities beyond business, such as public-safety, educational and research activities, said Joe Morra of the FAA’s Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) Integration Office.

Prior to the adoption of the rules, some organizations applied for and received exemptions from the FAA to commercially operate. The rules do not apply to hobby or recreational UAV users. Those users do not need FAA authorization to fly as long as they are flying their vehicles safely, Morra said.

Both recreational and commercial users must register their UAVs with the FAA if a vehicle weighs between 0.55 and 55 pounds and will be flown outside. All users must provide a name and mailing and e-mail addresses, and commercial users must also provide the make, model and serial number of the UAVs.

Registration of the vehicles can be done both online at the FAA’s web portal and through paper. Since Dec. 31, the FAA has received 520,000 online registrations for recreational UAVs, 19,629 online registrations for commercial UAVs and 6,000 paper registrations for both types, for a total of more than 560,000 registrations, Morra said.

The Part 107 rules, which govern UAVs that weigh between 0.55 and 55 pounds, require that commercial pilots receive an unmanned pilot certification, which includes passing a test on the rules and proper use of UAVs.

The FAA has 750 testing sites around the country and performed about 1,000 tests Aug. 29, the first day testing was available, Morra said. Through Sept. 10, the FAA has another 2,600 people registered to take the test.

Under the rules, commercial users must operate during the daytime, maintain line of sight with the UAV, avoid flying the UAV directly over people and yield the right of way to manned aircraft, among other restrictions. Additionally, a pilot can only operate one UAV at a time.

UAVs can be flown in Class G airspace without prior authorization from air traffic control and can be used in Class B, C, D and E airspace, with prior authorization from air traffic control.

“This opens up a lot of airspace across the country,” Morra said.

Users can apply for waivers of some of the rules, such as operating directly over people or flying only during the day, if it’s necessary for their operation and they can still ensure safe operation of the UAV. Like registration, waivers are available through an online portal.

The FAA is working on a rulemaking regarding what categories of UAVs can be safely flown above people and hopes to release that by the end of this year, Morra said.

Because the rules are new, outreach and education are the biggest keys to ensuring safe operation of the vehicles, Morra said. The FAA has available a variety of resources including educational materials about the rules and best practices for law enforcement officials dealing with a potential UAV violation.

“Most drone violations are not nefarious but mostly people who are just not aware of the rules,” Morra said.

The registration process is one way the FAA is trying to raise awareness because it allows the organization to provide users with educational materials when they register their vehicles, Morra said. He also encouraged law-enforcement agencies to download the educational materials on the FAA’s website as tools for educating their communities.

The organization also released the B4UFLY application, which offers information on the rules, a map interface that shows nearby flight restrictions and a flight planner tool.

Morra outlined a response protocol for UAVs developed by the U.S. Capitol Police, called D.R.O.N.E. The protocol has five steps: attempting to locate and identify the UAV operator, reporting the incident to the FAA regional operations center (ROC), observing and maintaining visibility of the UAV, identifying the type and other characteristics of the UAV, and taking appropriate police action to ensure that the area is safe.

Officers investigating a potential UAV violation can contact their local Law Enforcement Assistance Program (LEAP) contact to obtain information about the registered owner of the UAV. If a law-enforcement agency receives a report of a UAV flying in an area where there are potentially manned aircraft, it should immediately contact the FAA’s regional coordinator in the area so that nearby manned aircraft are aware of the situation.

For collisions or accidents involving a UAV, law-enforcement agencies should refer to the National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) criteria for a serious accident. If a particular collision meets those criteria, the sight should be held for the NTSB and FAA, as it would be in the case of a serious crash involving a manned aircraft, Morra said.

Find the FAA’s UAV resource page here.

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