If you’ve been keeping track of the state of commercial UAVs and their usage, you know that the FAA recently gave BP and UAV manufacturer AeroVironment permission to fly the first commercial UAV to fly over land for the purposes of aerial surveys over Alaska’s North Slope. While this is most definitely a significant bit of news, don’t forget that you can still find yourself in trouble with the police for flying drones.
Wilkins Mendoza, 34, and Remy Castro, 23, were recently flying a DGI Phantom 2 drone with a GoPro camera attached to it near the George Washington Bridge in New York when they reportedly flew too close to an NYPD helicopter, nearly hitting it. The report alleges that the helicopter had to maneuver out of the way of the drone.
On one hand, police sources state that the drone flew as high as 2,000 feet in the area, and that the helicopter had to move to avoid being hit.
But on the other hand, Castro and Mendoza report that they were flying their drone about six stories high in the air, and next thing you know, a police helicopter is flying after it. They even say that they have video evidence that the helicopter chased after it, and at a low altitude. “We tried to get the drone away from the helicopter, but it kept on following it,” said Castro. We have video proof that it was following us, not us following it, he said.
A defense attorney said that this particular model of drone can only fly about 300 feet in the air. The two men were arraigned in Manhattan Criminal Court on a single felony count of Class D reckless endangerment; a charge stemming from the fact the pilot said he felt the drone endangered the NYPD helicopter, according to the New York Daily News. The men were released without bail following the arrest.
It would stand to reason that these men will most likely get away with just a fine, or perhaps nothing at all, but this incident brings an interesting thought to mind. With commercial drones now in civilian airspace, how will police in the US react to seeing them? They are new, and also raise potential privacy concerns, so will they view them as a threat, or as a harmless hobby? And perhaps more importantly, how should they be viewed?