Since 1981, UAS hobbyists have been free to fly, bound by only general guidelines. The FAA’s recent publication of its Special Rule for Model Aircraft attempts to spell out in much more detail the types of conduct that is prohibited. Of course, most people know that the FAA doesn’t have a lot of resources to police hobbyists. The attitude seems to be that “it’s a big country, and who is going to know if the rules are bent a little.” Besides, if the hobbyist gets caught, what is the worst that can happen? The answer might shock you.
While the FAA has a limited ability to police the public’s use of UASs, local law enforcement is not so limited, and they have a great many tools at their disposal to reign in dangerous behavior by the public. A prime example of that happened in New York on Monday.
According to an article in the New York Daily News, two men were flying a DGI Phantom 2 UAS at about 800 feet in the air around midnight, when they were spotted by an NYPD helicopter. The helicopter observed the UAS and, at one point, allegedly had to take evasive action to avoid being hit. The police tracked the UAS until it landed and the operators were arrested. The men were charged with reckless endangerment due to the near collision with the helicopter.
Under New York law, first degree reckless endangerment is a very broad crime, and applies where a person “evinces a depraved indifference to human life” and “recklessly engages in conduct which creates a grave risk of death to another person.” The crime is a class D felony and can carry a sentence of up to seven years imprisonment.
While people generally don’t engage in recreational activities in a state of mind that evinces a depraved indifference to human life, the fact remains that if the worst happens, and a UAS accident results in someone’s death, state manslaughter charges will be the likely result. So don’t forget, when you fly your UAS, there are a lot more people than just the FAA watching you, and dangerous actions carry serious real-world consequences for you and others.
(Originally posted July 8, 2014)