Storm Response with Drones

On Tuesday, the FAA posted an update in anticipation of the arrival of Hurricane Florence in the Carolinas this week, available here.   Today, the FAA issued an informational press release to drone operators for Hurricane Florence, available here.

In addition to storm-related information for commercial airline travelers and Air Traffic Control impacts, the FAA warns drone operators that interfering with emergency responses may result in fines exceeding $20,000 and civil penalties.  Although drone operators should heed FAA’s warning for safety and compliance reasons, drones can also be an important resource during disaster recovery.

Opportunities for drones to help in the recovery of Hurricane Florence will include, among others:

  • Search and rescue operations by local authorities;
  • Insurance assessments for private property damage; and
  • Infrastructure damage assessments.

However, the proliferation of drones for recreational and commercial purposes has also posed a challenge to emergency response operations.  The presence of a drone can prevent manned aircraft from entering the area to respond to emergency.

The FAA warns that flying a drone without authorization in or near the disaster area may violate federal, state, or local laws and ordinances.

With FAA’s Part 107, small drone operators can generally operate for commercial purposes, including disaster recovery and response operations, without having to get special FAA authorization to fly.  However, operators should be particularly mindful of certain Part 107 conditions and seek appropriate waivers when necessary.  The key conditions include yielding the right of way to all aircraft, not operating over people unless they are participating in the operation or are in a covered location, and operating in controlled airspace only with the appropriate airspace authorization.  Controlled airspace operating requests can be obtained in near real-time through the Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC), which automates the application and approval process for airspace authorizations under 400 feet in controlled airspace around airports.

Operators should comply with special rules and restrictions in the storm recovery areas, such as FAA-issued temporary flight restrictions.  As of the date of this post, no temporary flight restrictions had been issued for the expected landfall area for Hurricane Florence.  State laws may also pose additional restrictions on operations.