Last Friday, a Seattle drone pilot was found guilty of reckless endangerment by the Seattle Municipal Court and sentenced to 30 days in jail. The pilot, who owns an aerial photography business, crashed a drone into the city’s Pride Parade in 2015. During the crash 2 people were injured and one woman was left unconscious.
The Verge reported that two drone experts Arthur Holland Michael, co-director of the Center for the Study of the Drone and Tom McMahon, vice president of Advocacy and Public Affairs at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International do not believe that there is any precedent of a drone pilot receiving jail time for a drone related incident. Although drone pilots have been arrested and fined.
While the FAA has administrative regulations regarding the operations of drones, many municipalities are moving to create local regulations that will give local authorities more ability to act against those that use drones ‘illegally’. The City of San Diego is currently considering such local laws and this week the State of South Dakota is considering a new law that would make certain drone operations illegal (like flying over prisons).
While local laws might seem sensible, they run the risk of creating patchwork regulations throughout America—something the FAA is actually against.
In the “State and Local Regulation of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Fact Sheet” written by the Federal Aviation Administration Office of the Chief Counsel in December of 2015 it states: “Substantial air safety issues are raised when state or local governments attempt to regulate the operation or flight of aircraft. If one or two municipalities enacted ordinances regulating UAS in the navigable airspace and a significant number of municipalities followed suit, fractionalized control of the navigable airspace could result. In turn, this ‘patchwork quilt’ of differing restrictions could severely limit the flexibility of FAA in controlling the airspace and flight patterns, and ensuring safety and an efficient air traffic flow. A navigable airspace free from inconsistent state and local restrictions is essential to the maintenance of a safe and sound air transportation system.”