Shaheen Introduces Bill to Deter Recreational Drones from Interfering with Disaster Relief

October 07, 2015

(Washington, DC) –U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) today introduced the Wildfire and Emergency Airspace Protection Act, a bill to keep recreational drones from interfering with disaster relief efforts.

“On far too many occasions, drones have put the lives of first responders at risk as they conduct disaster relief efforts,” said Shaheen. “And especially as wildfires become more frequent and extreme, firefighters should be able to fight these blazes from the air unencumbered. My legislation would provide a greater deterrent to using drones near disaster relief efforts and send a clear message that operating them in these circumstances is unacceptable.”

The U.S. Forest Service has already tallied 13 wildfires this year in which drones interfered with firefighting aircraft. This past summer, there have been several reports in which firefighting aircraft have had to abandon their essential mission of combatting forest fires for fear of colliding with drones flying in their operating area. While the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) currently has the authority to fine drone operators, it has limited ability and resources to track down users and hold them accountable.

Shaheen’s legislation would specifically criminalize recreational drone use that knowingly interferes with disaster relief efforts. By criminalizing drone use under these narrow circumstances, the bill provides law enforcement officials with the authority to protect aircraft engaged in disaster relief without discouraging the safe and responsible use of drones.

Shaheen is the lead Democrat of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, which has jurisdiction over disaster relief.