Drones, Blossoms, and Jails

There are a lot of things in life that don’t mix: oil and water, fire and ice, lard and lima beans. To that list, you can now add drones and “cherry blossoms.” At least that is what the FAA says in the latest of their never-ending efforts to educate drone users on where they can and cannot fly. The FAA has released a new video  in their “No Drone Zone” series that features a happy sounding woman telling people to come down and see the cherry blossoms, but warning that flying a drone there is “against the law, and violators will potentially face stiff fines and criminal penalties.”

It may seem odd for the FAA to be releasing a video aimed at what is, after all, a relatively small regional event, the District of Columbia Cherry Blossom Festival. It does, however, provide a convenient hook for the FAA to draw attention to the limits on hobby drone use. Flying at an event like the Cherry Blossom festival potentially violates a wide range of restrictions.

First and foremost, the Tidal Basin, the location of the cherry blossoms, is about one mile from Reagan National Airport. As a result, it is well within the 15 mile Flight Restricted Zone. This area is considered National Defense Airspace, and illegal flying within it can earn the pilot up to a year in prison.

Second, the Tidal Basin and the cherry trees are administered by the National Park Service (NPS). Back in June of 2014, NPS Director Jarvis issued an Interim Policy  essentially banning UAS operations from NPS land. Nearly two years later, that “Interim Policy” is still in place. Operating a UAS in violation of the ban, depending on which national park you are at, can result (https://www.law.cornell.edu/cfr/text/36/1.3) in a fine and up to six months in jail.

Third, for those of you who have never been to the Tidal Basin when the cherry trees are in bloom, the entire area is jammed with people. This is exactly the type of open air assembly that UAS are not supposed to be operated over.

While videos like this may seem silly to some, they actually do help get the FAA’s message out to the public. With still a week to go before the cherry blossoms are at their peak, the video has generated about one hundred news stories in the past few days. So now you are warned: unless you want to see the cherry blossoms from the District of Columbia Detention Center, leave the drone at home.

Originally posted March 23, 2016

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