FAA Set To Crack Down on UAV Pilots

Operators face fines, prison time.

Aeryon Scout Drone
Aeryon Scout Drone

The FAA has finally had enough. After a sharp rise in close encounters this year between remotely piloted UAVs and commercial aircraft, the agency is now warning drone pilots that they face stiff penalties, criminal charges and even prison time for unauthorized flights.

The FAA says there have been 650 reports of UAV sightings by commercial and GA pilots so far this year versus 238 all of last year. Addressing the threat of a midair collision, the agency says it is sending a clear message that “operating drones around airplanes and helicopters is dangerous and illegal.”

To this point the FAA has relied on a community outreach program called "Know Before You Fly" to educate drone pilots about where they are permitted to operate. But after reports of drones grounding firefighting aircraft battling wildfires out west recently, the FAA decided to step up enforcement big time. It has levied fines in a few instances but says enforcement cases are set to rise sharply, with "dozens" of open cases now pending.

As part of its crackdown on unauthorized drone flights, the FAA is asking the general public to report illegal flights to local law enforcement.

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