Yesterday, a drone crashed into the stands at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center during a U.S. Open tennis match. Thankfully, nobody was hurt but a teacher, of all people, was taken into custody for failing to have the common sense, or understanding of the new FAA rules that prohibits drone flight over large crowds.
This is the latest in a series of drone flight miscues that have included drones flying around a wild fire, resulting in dozens of cars and trucks being destroyed. The bottom line is, drone and unmanned aerial vehicle operators trying to get that birds eye shot, needs to be aware that there’s a time and place for everything, and a little common sense goes a long way.
“No spectators were in the immediate area of the crash and there were no injuries. The NYPD responded and is conducting an ongoing investigation.” – USTA in a statement, via WSJ
The drone was flown over the grandstand and into Armstrong Stadium, where professionals Flavia Pennetta and Monica Niculescu were playing. After a brief delay which left both players visibly shaken as to the incident, play resumed with the knowledge that no one was hurt, and in reality, the stands where largely empty.
But police began investigating, and soon thereafter, Daniel Verley, a teacher from New York City, was taken into custody and faces charges of reckless endangerment and, “operating a drone in a New York City Park outside of the prescribed area.”
“Fortunately, there were no injuries or fatalities to report, but the 15 to 20 minutes that those helicopters were grounded meant that 15 to 20 minutes were lost that could have led to another water drop cycle, and that would have created a much safer environment and we would not have seen as many citizens running for their lives.” – Spokesman Eric Sherwin of the San Bernardino County Fire Department, via CNET
Last July, drones being operated by hobbyists and and budding news gatherers were flying as many as five drones through a California North forest fire, preventing plans and helicopters from entering the area and dropping fire retardant to put it out. Soon the fire jumped a freeway and destroyed 20 vehicles as it sent panicked motorists fleeing the flames.
As a result, the U.S. Forest Service put out a flyer via Twitter (see right), advising drone operators to obtain official permission from the U.S. Forest Service, as failure to do so will require them to suspend aerial operations out of safety for the pilots.
The first incident happened back in 2013 when a drone pilot was fined $10,000 by the FAA, for flying his powered glider over a university campus. The fine was tossed by an NTSB judge citing that no rules governed the ability to levy such a fine. But soon after, the NTSB made a ruling that fines could be levied, and the FAA soon came up with rules to govern the case, while Congress works out its own remedies.
So where do we go? Well, first, to the rules. According to the FAA’s new rules of drone operation, pilots are not allowed to fly drones over large crowds, in restricted airspace, and out of visual range. Large crowds covers the incident at Armstrong Stadium, as is the fact that the area was in restricted airspace by design.
Since a news worthy event like a fire or standoff will likely involved first responders and onlookers, it’s a good idea to figure that airspace will be restricted in order for aerial assets of first responders to govern and interdict the scene. The Forest Service does elude to receiving permission, and likely that won’t be forthcoming. But in this instance, it’s much better to ask permission than beg forgiveness, because without the permission, you’re going to jail.
Now I know what you’re thinking, this isn’t a commercial enterprise, so the rules don’t apply, right? Nice try. Those are the basic guidelines that govern both hobbyists and professional drone operators trying to get the aerial shot. In some cities, you have to be permitted to do so.
In Las Vegas, for instance, you must have a proper licensing and procedures to cover events with a drone. If you’re a news agency, chances are that local areas, you can become certified to cover the news or event with a drone, and if not, they’re going to be developing them pretty quickly as more of these events happen.
The bottom line is, use common sense. Don’t be a jerk. Don’t go where you’re not wanted and take time to be aware of your local area rules. Some cities don’t allow them except in certain areas. Follow the rules. Keep the drone within eyesight, and don’t try and get a shot that’s beyond your skills. Avoid fires because aerial assets need to fight the fire.
Ever notice that during a disaster like that, news agencies steer cleer? They don’t fly over until afterwards. Why? They know the rules, they’re aware of safety. And when they do fly, they communicate to make sure they don’t loiter into unwanted airspace.
So, be safe. Be wise. Follow the rules. Stay out of restricted airspace. These are the rules of etiquette, and I’m sure there will be others, that can make sure we have safe skies for all of us to enjoy this explosive category of aerial cinematography. And if you think you shouldn’t be flying somewhere, DON’T.
Hat Tip – USA Today