The head of the Federal Aviation Administration was in Boise Monday. Director Michael Huerta spoke to the National Association of State Aviation Officials convention at the Boise Center. Prior to his comments there, Huerta visited the National Interagency Fire Center.
The FAA and officials at NIFC have worked together to try and curb the issue of drones flying too close to aerial firefighting operations. Numerous times this year, air tankers and helicopters flying over wildfires had to be grounded because drones were discovered nearby.
Huerta’s agency has favored a public outreach campaign to educate drone users, instead of strict enforcement. Huerta thinks those efforts are working.
“I think there’s a greater awareness,” he says. “I give NIFC and the agencies that make it up a lot of credit for getting the word out that if you fly, we can’t.”
Drone use in the U.S. has proliferated in recent years. Huerta says that means many inexperienced people are flying unmanned aircraft.
“The important thing they need to understand is there are rules to operate in the airspace.”
Drones being flown illegally have caused problems all over the country. A southern California baby went to the hospital this month after she was struck by debris from a crashing drone. Drones have led to headaches for commercial pilots near major airports. In Boise, a major hot air balloon festival was briefly interrupted by a drone.
Though his agency has preferred to educate the public on where drones can be flown safely, Huerta says there are times when enforcement of existing laws is needed.
“You have to do both. Clearly, because you have so many new users, we want to make sure everyone understands the rules. But no one should fly an unmanned aircraft in a way that is careless or reckless and endanger other people. And if people are doing that, they’re doing that knowingly and willfully, we will take enforcement action.”
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