The Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) is imploring its members to keep their drones out of the sky during Hurricane Florence. Expected to hit the coast along the Carolinas today — with storm surges that could impact the states for days or longer — Hurricane Florence may seem like a tempting opportunity to grab incredible images.
However, as past natural disasters including Hurricane Harvey in 2017 have shown, when amateur drones pilots take the air with their unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) they can interfere with emergency workers and rescue crews.
While the winds have slowed to downgrade Hurricane Florence to a Category 1, there are other factors that can quickly put a drone pilot in a precarious position themselves.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) had to issued two Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFR) in Texas following the hurricane specifically because drones interfering with rescue operations. Then they took an added step of warning any drone pilot they saw anywhere near rescue areas — even if they were outside of the TFR zones — that they would be subject to fines.
The FAA has already started tweeting, warning drone pilots to keep out of the skies near Hurricane Florence.
The AMA is aware that its own members know to keep their aircraft out of the sky during the hurricane — but they're asking that they "spread the word to other UAS operators who may not know that flight before, during and after the storm can be dangerous."
TFRs can be put into place quickly, preventing any unauthorized aircraft from flying. You can also check on any TRF issued by the FAA online — and as of Thursday evening, one had not been issued in the area expected to be impacted by Hurricane Florence.
However the FAA is already monitoring the area around Hurricane Florence, and has warned drone users specifically that it can issue fines over $20,000 and penalties as well — even if a TFR is not in place — if a drone operator is found to "interfere with emergency response operations."
Drone and UAS operators have sometimes paired with emergency workers, such as when an unmanned drone helped to rescue two swimmers in Australia reaching them and dropping a floatation device within 70 seconds. A drone even located two missing hikers and their dog in Colorado in just two hours.
Even so, the AMA hopes its members will be mindful of where they're asked to step in — and where they asked to stay on the ground.
"UAS can be a helpful tool during disaster relief, but unless you are working directly with relief efforts, you must stay clear and allow the professionals to do their vital work," said the group.