Drone Pilots in the Hot Seat as Politicians Squelch Hobby Flights

Consumer drones have become a nuisance to many authorities, including wildland firefighters. In July of 2014, a hobbyist piloted his drone over a fire in California, endangering aircraft and the firefighters on the ground who depend on their retardant drops.

Jason Bross, also known by his YouTube handle, jayzaerial, was outed by The New York Times in an article about the danger drones pose to firefighting aircraft. Drones hitting wings or engines could bring down aircraft, similar to a bird strike.

“It helped me realize the fire thing is a big deal, that it is hitting nationwide,” Bross said about the article.

Media coverage of acts like this has triggered legislative action.

California’s Senate Bill 168 proposes that emergency responders such as firefighters should be allowed to shoot drones down or disable them with water hoses without having to compensate their owners. Bross found no fault with this measure.

“I think it’s totally appropriate since people keep continuing to fly in fires,” he said.

U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-California) introduced the Safe Drone Act in October 2015, which would make flying drones around wildfires a misdemeanor.

“Our firefighters and airplane pilots should be focused on keeping the public safe—not worrying about unauthorized drones that recklessly interfere with their jobs,” Boxer said.

Bross’s advice to fellow hobbyists: don’t fly your drones around fires.