The California legislature is examining two bills dealing with drone interference, one of which would allow public safety crews to shoot down a drone if it threatens personnel fighting fires.
SB 168, introduced by Sen. Ted Gaines (R-Roseville) and Sen. Mike Gatto (D-Glendale), would grant “immunity to any emergency responder who damages an unmanned aircraft in the course of firefighting, air ambulance, or search-and-rescue operations,” according to the Los Angeles Times.
Cal Fire reported that 12 different instances occurred this summer in which drones interfered with pilots, forcing them to land. Cal Fire Director Ken Pimlott told Sacramento’s KCRA 3 of the most recent incident: “Two weeks ago, one of our DC-7 air tankers came within 50 feet of a drone when it was returning from the Rocky Fire, 50 feet away from a mid-air collision, potentially killing the pilot and the air crew and placing people on the ground at grave risk.”
On June 24, a drone kept aircraft fighting the Lake Fire on the ground at Big Bear Lake; on July 12, another drone delayed water and Phoschek dropping aircraft from fighting a fire in Mill Creek Canyon, and five drones delayed water drops at the fire in Cajon Pass on July 17.
Brendan Schulman, vice president for drone-maker DJI, argued that drones have been helpful for firefighting, asserting, “Even firefighters are using them across the country to help assist in fire and emergency situations.” He was echoed by Kelly Huston, deputy director for the Office of Emergency Services, who informed KCRA 3, “We see them being beneficial in areas like search and rescue,” adding that they “speed up the process of finding people who are missing.”
Gaines said of SB 168, “This bill will help make sure the skies are clear of drones and that the brave men and women fighting these fires can do their job of protecting the public without worrying about frivolous lawsuits.” He has offered another bill, SB 167, which would fine drone users $5,000 and a possible six-month sentence for illegally using a drone during a wildfire.
Elsewhere in California, on Tuesday, Poway Mayor Steve Vaus introduced an ordinance that would ban drones within a two-mile radius of wildfires or public emergencies. He told San Diego ABC News affiliate 10News, “I don’t want to get to Santa Ana season with winds whipping fire flames and look back on this night and say, boy, I wish we’d done something …The last thing in the world we want is a drone flying overhead because somebody is getting their kicks about getting their video that they hope is going to go viral and put our folks, our community at risk.
Vaus dismissed claims from drone users that the FAA should make the rules regarding drones, not the city. He said: “It’s not always easy to enforce, but a lot of times the importance of an ordinance is going on record and saying this is what our community standards are and the behavior that we are willing to tolerate and what our priorities are.”