While drones have been used to capture breathtaking and heartbreaking images of Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath, the FAA has issued a warning to drone operators.
The FAA has issued reminders that unless drone operators have specific authorization from the FAA, they are not permitted to operate where Temporary Flight Restrictions (“TFR”) are in place. The primary reason is that operating an unauthorized drone in these areas could interfere with local, state, and federal rescue missions.
The FAA notes that if a drone operator interferes with emergency response operations, they could be subject to significant fines. In addition, even in areas where TFRs are not in effect, operating a drone without authorization in or near a disaster area may violate federal, state, or local law.
Even in the absence of a natural disaster, operating a drone over people is prohibited by Part 107, unless a specific exemption has been granted by the FAA. Moreover, reckless operation of a drone is also prohibited.
While drones have incredible abilities to assist first responders and others, whether through providing real-time images and data that would be difficult or impossible to obtain through other means, unauthorized drone operations also have the potential to interfere with the efforts of first responders.
As tempting as it may be to fly a drone in or near a disaster area to capture footage, for the safety of all, please refrain from doing so unless you have specific authorization from the FAA.