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Ahem. Drone Safety is a Big Deal.

August 10, 2017

If you are flying near anything that might be called “critical infrastructure,” there are probably flight restrictions you should be aware of. The current issue of Drone360 lists the Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Facility as a part of our “21 Awesome Places to Vacation With a Drone” feature.  While definitely an epic and inspiring subject for drone photography, we hope it is also clear that you should ask permission before flying near any energy facility or over major infrastructure like Crescent Dunes.

In an email, a representative from SolarReserve, the site’s operator, asserts that since the issue has hit newsstands, “we’ve seen a couple drone operators flying over Crescent Dunes which is a critical facility as it is an operating power plant.”

At Drone360, we have always preached safety and responsible drone operation. We sincerely hope our readers are aware of the limitations of drone operations in and around restricted airspace. But if not, here’s a reminder:

You should know that airspace is divided into two categories: controlled and uncontrolled. When flying in uncontrolled airspace you don’t need to ask permission from any authorities. (Safe flying rules and good etiquette always apply, of course.) When flying near controlled airspace, you either must avoid that airspace or get special permission.

Before you fly

vfrmap-crescent-dunes-drone-safety-drone360

Check the VFR map for a site like Crescent Dunes before flying.

Before flying, we recommend everyone download and use one of the many smartphone apps, such as B4UFly or Airmap, that display the location of local airports and other restricted areas. You can also read more about the Federal Aviation Administration’s airspace safety restrictions here.

We’ve also detailed when and how commercial and hobbyist pilots can give notice for flights near an airport. Consult airspace maps if you might be flying over places like prisons, military bases, and yes, power plants or other utilities-related installations.

Drones play it safe

In addition, drone pilots should also be aware of Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs). For example, it is illegal to fly over a stadium or major sporting event one hour before or one hour after the event. It is also illegal to fly over a wildfire or to interfere with firefighting aircraft.

Your drone’s programming might also help prevent you from venturing into restricted airspace. For example, the DJI GEO (Geospatial Environment Online) system will alert pilots to flight restrictions including forest fires, major accidents, stadium events, and VIP travel. It will also notify users about restrictions around prisons, power plants, and other sensitive areas.

Be aware that different states and municipalities have unique drone laws and restrictions. According to SolarReserve, penalties for operating a drone near a critical infrastructure facility in Nevada can include up to $1,000 in fines, and/or up to six months in jail. The Las Vegas Defense Group has published a comprehensive guide for Nevada’s drone laws and flight restrictions.

So remember, don’t fly over power plants or critical infrastructure, and don’t fly within restricted airspace without special permission. If you are ever flying a drone and worry that you are flying too close to something you could get you in trouble, you’re probably right. Don’t fly there without authorization – getting permission is often easier than you think. In fact, the new Low-Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC) will provide instant authorizations to a select number of airports this fall.

Featured image: Kara Murphy

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