The FAA, the agency that regulates airspace in the United States, has issued a warning to drone operators as a reminder not to interfere with emergency operations in areas affected by Hurricane Michael.

Drones are frequently used during disasters for tasks such as search and rescue or damage assessment, but this work is performed by trained professionals and volunteers, and is tightly coordinated by emergency agencies to avoid possible interference with low flying aircraft involved in the disaster response.

Fines for interfering with emergency operations may exceed $20,000, but more importantly, flying a drone in an affected area could impact emergency operations at a critical time. Pilots who wish to contribute to recovery efforts are encouraged to do so through volunteer organizations that work directly with the local incident commander.

Although most drone pilots will know to avoid interference with emergency operations, this is a friendly reminder not to be that person who inevitably ends up on the evening news for flying their drone directly into a disaster zone.

Here's the official warning from the FAA for those who want details:

Hurricane Michael: Information for Drone Operators

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is warning drone owners and operators that they will be subject to significant fines that may exceed $20,000 if they interfere with emergency response operations in the areas affected by Hurricane Michael.

Many aircraft that are conducting life-saving missions and other critical response and recovery efforts are likely to be flying at low altitudes over areas affected by the storm. Flying a drone without authorization in or near the disaster area may unintentionally disrupt rescue operations and violate federal, state, or local laws and ordinances, even if a Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) is not in place. Allow first responders to save lives and property without interference.

Government agencies with an FAA Certificate of Authorization (COA) or flying under Part 107, as well as private sector Part 107 drone operators who want to support response and recovery operations, are strongly encouraged to coordinate their activities with the local incident commander responsible for the area in which they want to operate.

If drone operators need to fly in controlled airspace or a disaster TFR to support the response and recovery, operators must contact the FAA’s System Operations Support Center (SOSC) by emailing 9-ATOR-HQ-SOSC@faa.gov the information they need to authorize access to the airspace. Coordination with the SOSC may also include a requirement that a drone operator obtain support from the appropriate incident commander.

Here’s the information the FAA may require:

  • the unmanned aircraft type
  • a PDF copy of a current FAA COA
  • the pilot’s Part 107 certificate number
  • details about the proposed flight (date, time, location, altitude, direction and distance to the nearest airport, and latitude/longitude)
  • nature of the event (fire, law enforcement, local/national disaster, missing person) and the pilot’s qualification information.