June 21, 2014
National Park Service Bans All Aerial Drones
Alan McStravick for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
Imagine if you will, you have packed up the family, Griswold style, for a vacation to see the splendors of America. There you are, on the cusp of the Grand Canyon watching the most majestic sunset ever when, out of nowhere, the scene is spoiled by the low buzzing not of a swarm of mosquitoes but rather by an inconsiderate operator of an unmanned aerial vehicle, better known to you and me as a drone.
Thankfully, with a ruling by the National Park Service (NPS), this scenario won't play out again anytime soon. That's right, the above situation actually occurred to a group of visitors just two months ago. Additionally, a private drone was confiscated by NPS park rangers after it was flown above visitors who were seated in the Mount Rushmore National Memorial amphitheater. The confiscation was justified by the NPS due to visitor safety.
Another incident at Zion National Park in Utah was witnessed by volunteers as a drone flew in low enough to disturb a herd of bighorn sheep. For these and other reasons, several individual parks had enacted their bans on drones independent of one another.
To save the more than 84 million acres from becoming a patchwork of individualized regulations regarding the flight of drones, the NPS decided yesterday that each park, monument, battlefield, historic site, seashore, river and trail under its care would now be a drone-free zone. The decision was arrived at and heralded in a statement that cited both noise and safety for its enactment.
"We have serious concerns about the negative impact that flying unmanned aircraft is having in parks, so we are prohibiting their use until we can determine the most appropriate policy," NPS Director Jonathan Jarvis said, according to CNN.
This latest announcement by a government agency concerning the operation of drones comes on the heels of a serious curtailing of drones for commercial purposes by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Its announced moratorium is a temporary fix until the agency can develop rules governing the use of these unmanned, aerial vehicles.
Model aircraft, most often associated with hardcore hobbyists, fit the loose definition of drone aircraft. Operators of model aircraft have long had carte blanche in the operation of their craft in public areas, provided they fly below the 400-foot ceiling established by the FAA. Additionally, it is expected these hobbyists will be cognizant of their surroundings and only fly their model craft away from both populated areas and airspace shared with full-size aircraft.
According to attorney Brendan Schulman, a lawyer who represents the interests of drone enthusiasts, this ruling by the NPS will only be a temporary ban due to it being “overly broad.” Schulman fully expects the scope of the ruling will be significantly narrowed as it winnows its way through the federal rule-making process.
"It's very broad in that it sweeps in every national park-controlled location, including things like beaches and forests where there really aren't the same sensitivity to noise, and where model airplanes have been allowed for decades," said Schulman.
As of yesterday, the NPS has suspended all previously issued permits for drone flights in NPS governed territories. These suspensions will remain in effect until they can be individually reviewed by a senior NPS official. Senior NPS officials must also approve any and all new special use permits. According to the NPS statement, those superintendents tasked with previously authorizing the use of model aircraft on park grounds can continue to allow such use.
The NPS stated the necessity for this new regulation arose, as their previous rules didn't address unmanned aircraft. As such, they were in a gray area where the distribution of fines was concerned. Schulman points out that any fines levied previous to yesterday's announcement are now called into question.
If and when a broader and more comprehensive regulation is formulated, many of these restrictions may fall away. Until that time, feel free to enjoy your Grand Canyon sunsets in all their peaceful and uninterrupted glory.
FOR THE KINDLE - America's Most Popular National Parks: redOrbit Press