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Posts tagged: drones

NIFC warns folks to keep unauthorized drones away from wildfires

The National Interagency Fire Center says folks flying unauthorized drones near wildfires are getting in firefighters’ way, and they’re asking the drone operators to cut it out. Unauthorized drones “could cause serious injury or death to firefighters on the ground,” NIFC warns today. “They could also have midair collisions with airtankers, helicopters, and other aircraft engaged in wildfire suppression missions.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

There have been at least three instances this year of unauthorized drone flights near a wildfire zone in violation of temporary flight restrictions, which typically are imposed around wildfires and require permission from fire managers to enter the airspace. Some apparently were taking video or collecting data on the fires. But Aitor Bidaburu, chair of the National Multi-Agency Coordinating Group at NIFC, said people shouldn’t fly drones near wildfires whether or not formal flight restrictions have been declared in effect. The presence of an unauthorized drone could prompt fire managers to suspend aerial suppression efforts until they’re sure it’s gone, disrupting firefighting, he said.

Anyone determined to have interfered with wildfire suppression efforts could be subject to civil penalties and potentially criminal prosecution.

Six drone test-site states named, Idaho not among them

The FAA has announced the six states it’s chosen to be test sites for drone technology, and Idaho’s not among them, nor is Washington. Instead, the six states are Alaska, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Texas and Virginia. Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise, who sponsored legislation last year seeking the test-site designation, said he’s disappointed, but still sees a future for drone technology in Idaho. “It means we have to develop another tack,” Winder said. “I think there’s still a lot of assets in Idaho that relate to unmanned aircraft systems,” including the Idaho National Laboratory, forestry, agricultural and fish and wildlife operations and more. “There’s a real need to develop curriculum and people that understand the programming and the potential for the use of these unmanned systems.”

Winder said Idaho can still pursue designation as a “Center of Excellence” for drone technology, including both public and private efforts and university programs. “A lot of times with military bases and siting, a lot of politics play into it,” said Winder, a former Navy pilot. “We’re a pretty small state, we don’t have a lot of political clout, and we may have just lost out on that basis alone.”

Becoming one of the six test sites “would’ve generated a significant number of jobs and expansion of our curriculum in our universities and colleges,” Winder said, “so I think it would’ve been really good for the state. But I think through this Center of Excellence, we can pursue a lot of those same goals, probably without as much participation by the FAA.”

As Idaho pitches for drone biz, has to explain new law passed this year

States including Idaho have been jostling for attention at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, or AUVSI, convention in Washington, D.C. this week, looking for a piece of the drone business as the unmanned aircraft market balloons and states compete to become federal test sites. The group’s website calls it “THE global market place for all things unmanned,” and says 8,000 attendees from more than 40 countries are attending.

But while Ohio’s booth served Buckeye State-shaped cookies, Politico reports, and North Dakota Lt. Gov. Drew Wrigley personally pitched his state as a test site, Idaho’s delegation had to explain a graphic in the AUVSI magazine distributed at the conference showing Idaho as bright-red on a map, one of seven states that’s passed “anti-UAS bills.” Idaho’s delegation told Politico that was misinformation, and Idaho’s new legislation “ensures the taxpayers that the technology won’t be abused.”

The twice-amended bill, SB 1134, passed after much debate this legislative session. Sponsored by Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise, it bans the use of unmanned drones to conduct surveillance or record or photograph “specifically targeted” persons or private property without their written consent, including for the purposes of publishing. The bill exempts drones used in mapping or resource management, law enforcement activity with a warrant, and emergency response for safety, search and rescue or controlled substance investigations; you can read the bill here. The governor signed it into law April 11, and it took effect July 1.

The Politico article says Idaho’s legislation may even be a selling point for the state in the test-site competition, showing that it’s wrestled with drone privacy questions at a state level.

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Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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