Private drones ordered to stay away from Harvey rescue efforts

The FAA’s flight restrictions prohibit most civilian flights as high as 3,000 feet altitude across hundreds of square miles around greater Houston. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke) (Bloomberg) — Aviation regulators imposed a prohibition on hobbyist drones and other civilian aircraft flying in the area affected by Tropical Storm Harvey after concerns were raised about potential interference of rescue efforts. The Federal Aviation Administration issued the new restrictions Tuesday following one of the worst natural disasters in recent history as rains continue to pummel parts of Texas in a deluge that began Friday night. Crowded skies Air Force Major General James Witham called the potential that a small civilian drone might interfere with a military plane aiding in the relief “a big deal” in a Pentagon briefing Tuesday. Related: Regulating unmanned aviation and transferring risk “And as much as possible, if we could keep civilian drones out of the crowded skies that are already crowded with people doing response and recovery efforts, that would certainly be helpful,” Witham said. “Those present a hazard for our crews operating those helicopters in the region.” The FAA’s flight restrictions prohibit most civilian flights as high as 3,000 feet altitude across hundreds of square miles around greater Houston. The FAA is allowing exceptions to the flight ban for search and rescue teams, the military and law enforcement. In the past the agency also has tried to accommodate news media helicopters and drones if the operator is properly licensed. Disasters attract hobbyists Safety issues with drones in emergency zones have arisen multiple times in the past, mostly when they were spotted flying over wildfires in California and other Western states. An Arizona sheriff arrested a man in July for allegedly flying his drone near a wildfire in that state. Disasters can draw hobbyists who use small drones to take photographs or videos or just observe activities. The Texas Military Department, which oversees the state’s National Guard and Air National Guard units, tweeted on Saturday, “We are seeing civilian drones that pose EXTREME risks to our rescue pilots and crews in high need areas.” The department didn’t respond to an emailed request for more details. FAA created no-fly zone for safety There have been no official reports from the FAA about specific incidents, though relief agencies in the throes of helping people may immediately notify the aviation authority. The FAA created the no-fly zone “to provide a safe environment for aviation operations carrying out disaster response and recovery missions,” it said on its website. Related: Evaluation and mitigation of drone-related risks Copyright 2017 Bloomberg. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

About John Fagan

John is a Jacksonville native who grew up on the First Coast. He graduated from Bishop Kenny High School in 1975 and went to college at Florida State University where he completed a 4-year program in 3 years. John graduated from the Florida State University College of Business in 1978 and went straight into Florida State University College of Law. While in law school, John earned a position on the prestigious Law Review Board serving as its Business Editor. As a law student, John studied in the Oxford program. He also interned with the Florida Legislature working in the Florida House of Representatives Criminal Justice Committee. John was admitted to the Florida Bar in 1981. John began his legal career as a law school intern in the State Attorney's Office in Jacksonville in 1981. After his internship, legendary State Attorney Ed Austin hired John as a full-time Assistant State Attorney for the Fourth Judicial Circuit (Clay, Duval, and Nassau Counties). As a prosecutor, John tried jury and non-jury trial on charges ranging from DUI to Murder. In 1983, John moved from the State Attorney's Office to begin his career in private practice. He has practiced law for 30 years on the First Coast. For the last 20 years, John and his family have made Clay County their home. John limits his practice to personal injury and disability cases. While there are many fine attorneys in Clay County, John is one of only a few Clay County attorneys who limit their practice to personal injury and disability cases. John takes pride in helping clients resolve injury claims in ways that avoid the stress, uncertainty, and the expense of unnecessary litigation. Professional Activities John is the past President of the Clay County Bar Association and has served on the Board of the Clay County Bar Association from 2009-2013. He is an active member of the Florida Bar, and the Federal Bar of the Middle and Southern Districts of Florida. He is also a member of the American Association of Justice, the Florida Association of Justice, the National Organization of Social Security Claimants' Representatives, and the National Organization of Veterans' Advocates. Service to the Community John is involved in the Clay County Community serving as a member and Director of the Rotary Club of Orange Park, of the Clay County Bar Association, and the Putnam County Bar Association.
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