[KHTS] – Firefighters have had to ground aircraft while battling brush fires, and Santa Clarita Valley residents have reported invasion of privacy, both causing an uproar against drones.
The city of Santa Clarita’s municipal code states in section 14.06.210 E, “No person shall operate in any park any model airplane, boat, car, craft, or other similar device that is powered by an internal combustion engine, remote control, or other similar or electrical power source, except in an area and at such times as designated for such use by the director (of parks, recreation and community service).”
“The code was adopted some time ago, but those types of devices, just like a golf ball or anything that’s thrown, could hit a park user,” said Rick Gould, director of parks, recreation and community service for Santa Clarita, in a previous interview.
The FAA has placed temporary flight restrictions for drones and other unmanned aircraft systems around wildfires, which means the unmanned aircraft should not fly there without agency approval, said spokesman Ian Gregor, in an interview with CNN.
Over the past couple weeks, five drones at different wildfires in California have prevented firefighters from using helicopters and other aircraft to fight fires, according to CNN.
“As far as the FAA is concerned, a drone is basically defined as any four propeller or more with a GPS,” said Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station Deputy Kevin Duxbury. “You can actually buy these from a local hobby store. They range anywhere from $400 to thousands of dollars, depending on what you want to invest in.
“You can mount cameras to them and this is where the issues start to come in, a lot of people are complaining about invasion of privacy issues and things like that.”
Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station deputies recommend contacting the station at 661-255-1121 to report illegal drone activity or if there is an unwanted drone flying over your home.
Here are some tips and regulations when flying drones, according to the Federal Aviation Administration:
* Fly below 400 feet and remain clear of surrounding obstacles
* Keep the aircraft within visual line of sight at all times
* Remain well clear of and do not interfere with manned aircraft operations
* Don’t fly within 5 miles of an airport unless you contact the airport and control tower before flying
* Don’t fly near people or stadiums
* Don’t fly an aircraft that weighs more than 55 lbs
* Don’t be careless or reckless with your unmanned aircraft – you could be fined for endangering people or other aircraft
Civil fines can range from $1,000 to $25,000 if a drone is operated in a dangerous manner or the person continues to operate a drone illegally after being contacted by the FAA, Gregor said, in an interview with CNN.
The FAA has partnered with the Know Before You Fly, an education campaign founded by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA), and the Small UAV Coalition in partnership with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to educate prospective users about the safe and responsible operation of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), according to the website.
For more information about how to use drones safely and legally, visit the website.
An area at Castaic Lake is also reserved for unmanned aircraft systems.
Two pieces of legislation are also in the works, which representatives hope will help protect firefighters and residents.
“Drone operators are risking lives when they fly over an emergency situation. Just because you have access to an expensive toy that can fly in a dangerous area doesn’t mean you should do it,” said Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Glendale, chair of the Assembly Committee on Privacy and Consumer Protection. “The legislature needs to send a signal that our society simply won’t put up with this nonsense. It’s very frustrating to see drone operators once again disrupt firefighting efforts in the Cajon Pass.”
Senate Bills 167 and 168, written by Gatto and Senator Ted Gaines, increases fines and introduces the possibility of jail time for drone use that interferes with firefighting efforts as well as granting immunity to any emergency responder who damages an unmanned aircraft in the course of firefighting, air ambulance, or search-and-rescue operations, according to a news release.
“People can replace drones, but we can’t replace a life,” said Gaines. “When our rescuers are risking their own lives to protect us, I want them thinking about safety, not liability.”