Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Golden Gate Bridge to drone operators: Buzz off

Golden Gate Bridge workers plan to put up signs this week reminding people that the span is a no drone zone.

With Christmas in a few days, bridge officials expect thousands of drones to be unwrapped from Sausalito to San Jose, with pilgrimages to the span to test them out.

"People will be getting these things for Christmas and they think, 'Oh, cool, let's go to the Golden Gate Bridge,'" said Kary Witt, bridge manager. "But they may not be aware of the regulations prohibiting it."

More and more the Golden Gate Bridge is being buzzed by camera-carrying flying drones, and security- and safety-conscious span officials are trying to put an end to it.

"We see the drones several times a month, maybe one or two times a week," Witt said.

Technically, it's not illegal to fly a drone near the span. But the National Park Service, which has land on either side of the bridge, does have a prohibition against drone use. The service oversees land in the Marin Headlands, Muir and Stinson beaches, as well as at the bridge.

The park service, which is the bridge district's landlord, controls areas such as the span's parking lots, where the "no drone" signs will be placed.

"People often will launch from the parking lots," Witt said.

Park officials find drone operators once or twice a week and typically give warnings, although they can issue citations.

"Most people are unaware," said Adrienne Freeman, park spokeswoman, who recently came across a drone operator at Rodeo Beach. "At this point it's more an education thing."

The park service has its own concerns about the drones.

"The drones have the potential of interfering with emergency operation, there can also be an effect on species, such as falcons, and it's also about the visitor experience," Freeman said. "People don't like things buzzing over their heads when they are in the park."

Bridge officials specifically have concerns about public safety and security.

Drones can fail and drop from the sky, posing a risk of causing traffic, bicycle and pedestrian accidents, especially given crowded conditions, bridge officials said.

One drone slammed into the bridge roadway earlier this year after being buffeted by winds, Witt noted.

The drones have been seen flying behind security fences and past sensors where the bridge prohibits photography for security reasons. Designated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security as "critical infrastructure," the bridge district has received roughly $15 million in state and federal grants for security improvements since the 9/11 attacks for both the span and its transit systems.

The Federal Aviation Administration has proposed a framework of regulations for commercial drone operators including limiting flights to daylight and requiring visual line-of-sight operations. It also addresses height restrictions, operator certification, optional use of a visual observer, aircraft registration and marking and operational limits.

The bridge district has written the agency, saying that while it supports the proposals, it should include non-commercial users because of potential security and safety issues.

As of Monday -- spurred by numerous reports of drones flying near jets and airports -- the federal government is requiring that the aircraft be registered to make it easier to identify owners and educate amateur aviators.

The move comes at a time when the FAA is receiving more than 100 reports per month about drones flying near occupied aircraft. The FAA prohibits drones and model airplanes from flying higher than 400 feet or within 5 miles of an airport.

Drones have become increasingly popular with hobbyists. The FAA estimates that 1.6 million small unmanned aircraft will be sold this year, with half during the last three months of the year.

Registration will cost $5 and must be renewed every three years, but the fee will be waived for the first 30 days, until Jan. 20. Owners will have to mark aircraft with an identification number.

Most people who fly drones and model aircraft have little aviation experience, but they become pilots as soon as they start to fly, said Deputy FAA Administrator Michael Whitaker.

"They have the responsibility to fly safely, and there are rules and regulations that apply to them," he said.

Source:  http://www.mercurynews.com

No comments: