After a drone struck an LA helicopter in LA, the drone pilot is now the first pilot to be federally convicted of reckless flight of an unmanned aircraft.
Remember the story of a drone hitting a helicopter in California? The drone pilot is now the first drone pilot to be convicted of reckless flight & operation of an unmanned aircraft. After an investigation by the FBI Joint Terrorism Task force, this pilot faces the first federal criminal conviction of unsafe operation of a drone according to the Department of Justice.
On September 18th, 2020, two LA pd officers were responding to a burglary via helicopter. One drone pilot heard all of the noise and decided to take flight right around midnight. (did he use a strobe?) The curious George drone pilot wanted to see what was going on. Andrew Hernandez took flight and it wasn't long before the flight would abruptly end.
After quickly looking down at his remote screen, SMACK the drone collided with the LAPD helicopter. Federal investigators swiftly stepped in. The investigators later verified the drone strike when they found parts of the drone and a material transfer to the helicopter.
The LA helicopter did see the drone taking flight in the same vicinity as the helicopter (remember drones are supposed to always yield to other aircraft). The helicopter pilot took evasive action but the helicopter still struck the aircraft. This reckless flight sets the precedent for the first federal conviction of a drone pilot.
The drone industry has not been known for large or many enforcement actions against drone pilots. Past FAA investigations of reckless youtubers hasn't yielded consistent enforcement results. The FAA did fine one particular pilot $185,000 after repeatedly defying FAA instructions. Most drone pilots are aware of the FAA's compliance first philosophy. Many of us are grateful for the opportunity for second chances. Yet some drone pilots still defy the rules regularly due to the perception of lack of enforcement. Which means some drone pilots still believe it is the Wild West. Taking risks because they think they can get away with it. This particular hazardous attitude is even mentioned in the FAA's training materials.
Many drone pilots are not aware that the FAA is not a law enforcement agency. The FAA can impose civil fines and force a pilot to surrender their certificate, but they won't arrest you.
This particular case is the first instance we have seen that Federal Law Enforcement has been involved. When this case first broke, the question remained, did the FAA defer the case to the FBI? This could have been the first instance, that we know of. Albeit, we do not believe this is the correct chain of events. It seems that LA has involved Federal Law enforcement. Even the DOJ report stated:
"This conviction is believed to be the nation’s first criminal conviction for the unsafe operation of an unmanned aircraft."
Drone pilots who have questioned the enforcement teeth of the FAA have a new concern now. As this particular case sets the precedent to drone pilots. The FAA might not be a law enforcement agency, but that won't stop them or local LEO's from involving Federal Law Enforcement in serious cases. Fly a drone recklessly and it is not the FAA to fear, but the FBI might show up now.
The message is clear to drone pilots, If you fly recklessly and endanger other lives, you will go to prison. Will this action push more pilots to learn how to fly properly? (We hope so duh!)
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