Earlier this month, John Thompson saw that local firefighters were attempting to put out a house fire. As many drone owners would, Mr. Thompson put his drone in the air to get some aerial video of the event. Little did he know that the Montgomery and Coldenham, NY fire departments were either camera shy, or simply didn't want to be distracted while performing their duties.
After about 10 minutes, and a couple of quick blasts from a firehose, the drone was knocked out of the sky. Now, Mr. Thompson believes that the fire departments owe him a new drone. Regardless of where you stand on Mr. Thompson's First Amendment rights vs. the need to let first responders do their jobs, there are some lessons on safe drone operations to be learned.
Commercial drone videographers like Heli Watch are responsible for adhering to regulations established by the FAA. The regulations ensure safe operation within the national airspace and mitigate the risks to people and property. The video shot by Mr. Thompson, illustrates the need for clear, enforceable regulation of non-commercial drone use to ensure public safety.
However, if you look at the current proposed regulations to govern ALL drone use, there are at least two violations in the video:
1. Most of the video is shot in over the firefighters, who (as is evident in the video) are not willing participants in the video. This violates the requirement that "Small unmanned aircraft may not operate over any persons not directly involved in the operation."
2. Based on what appears to be the drone's takeoff location and the fact that it appears to descend below the tree line as it relates to the pilot, it most likely violated the requirement to remain within visual line of site (VLOS) of the operator.
Even if the firefighters' response was a bit excessive, Mr. Thompson bears some responsibility as well. Ultimately, it is his reponsibility to operate his drone is a safe and responsible manner. Mr. Thompson's argument that "If the press is allowed to film a fire call I have the same right to do this. Look for the law that says I can't," may be valid at face value, but there are regulations regarding the use of drones that he ignored.