A 31-year-old drone pilot from Minneapolis found himself in custody after he unlawfully operated a drone in close proximity to a State Patrol helicopter on Tuesday night. The event is now being closely scrutinized by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
The close encounter occurred around 10 p.m. near Loring Park in Minneapolis, Minnesota, when the helicopter's pilots spotted a drone in their vicinity and managed to evade it just in time. Quickly after, investigators descended on the scene and, in collaboration with Minneapolis Police officials, succeeded in tracking down and arresting the drone's operator.
The investigation has been transferred to the FAA and it's plausible that charges may be leveled against the drone pilot.
Tony Caspers, the Director of Public Safety Sales at Maverick Drone Systems in Savage, expressed his concern over the incident. He reportedly pointed out that under federal law, drones cannot ascend beyond 400 feet unless expressly authorized by the FAA. He also noted, “Most helicopters are flying around 1,000 to 1,500 feet.”
Caspers expressed a stark warning about the risks of drone strikes, stating, “If you look at aviation accidents, a bird striking an engine of a 747 could down a plane. So, even if it's a drone and it's only two pounds, it's definitely going to take out a plane or helicopter.”
He also clarified that the drone operator may face charges for flying too close to another aircraft, stressing that drones must always yield to other aircrafts in the air.
FAA warns drone pilots
Kevin Morris, an FAA spokesperson and drone expert, acknowledged previous incidents of drone strikes, and expressed concerns over potential future crashes and the potential loss of life as drone popularity increases.
“There have been incidents where we're had collisions between drones and aircraft. Fortunately for the traditional aircraft involved, it did not cause any further damage than perhaps an emergency landing where the aircraft was still controllable,” Morris said. “It's important to remember that although that drone may look like a toy, it's really an aircraft and you are that drone's pilot.”
To support drone pilots and enhance safety, the FAA has a dedicated section on its website, called the FAA Drone Zone and offers a free app called B4UFly, which provides drone pilots with the latest rules and details of restricted airspace.
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