A recent report of an illegal drone flight in close proximity to the Crater Lake-Klamath Regional Airport drew concern from airport officials.
A resident whose property sits near the approach end of the airport runway reported a drone flying over their house, concerned that it could inadvertently cause a collision and potential crash with a civilian or military aircraft on approach to land at the airport facilities.
Drones, also known as unmanned aerial systems (UAS), fall under Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations if they weight more than 0.55 pounds, up to 55 pounds, must be registered, and are subject to many of the same airspace restrictions as aircraft.
“It is something we watch pretty closely,” said Linda Tepper, business manager for the Crater Lake-Klamath Regional Airport, regarding increased drone use in the Klamath Basin. “For the most part I think people have been good about drone use around the airport, which I think is in part due to our military presence — people are more careful around military than they are civilian.”
Drone pilots are reminded that in addition to required registration they must only fly under hobby or recreational rules if doing so in vicinity of an airport; within visual line-of-sight of their aircraft; never fly near other aircraft; never fly near emergency response events such as wildfires and accidents; and must notify the air traffic control tower for approval prior to any flights within five miles of an airport.
All drones are required to maintain an altitude of no higher than 400 feet above ground level at all times.
Additional restrictions are in place for commercially-licensed drone pilots, though FAA-approved waivers can be applied for online for specific planned operations within controlled airspace. A written exam must be passed at an FAA-approved facility to earn a commercial drone (UAS) pilots license.
In addition to Crater Lake-Klamath Regional Airport, drone pilots must also consider the five-mile radius rule regarding other regional active airports including heli-pads such as the helicopter landing site at Sky Lakes Medical Center.
Additionally, temporary flight restrictions may exist in some areas due to emergency situations, military operations, and sensitive high-security areas. It is illegal to fly over people or within controlled airspace without approval.
To report a planned drone flight to air traffic control within controlled airspace, contact the Air Traffic Manager at 541-880-2470.
What five-mile radius means
The five-mile radius rule can create some confusion about what areas are legal to fly. To aid drone pilots, the Crater Lake-Klamath Regional Airport’s website includes a map showing the no-fly five-mile radius in proximity to the airport. This map is available online at www.flykfalls.com.
The cost of drone technology has been drastically reduced over the past several years as new models are unveiled, resulting in millions of drones sold. As a result, many first-time fliers are entering the hobby who may not be aware of the restrictive FAA regulations that their flights may violate and are subject to high fines if caught or unsafe operation that results in an accident.
Violations of FAA regulations regarding drone use can be subject to fines of up to $25,000 per violation.
In December a drone pilot was found at fault for a mid-air collision in September with a military Blackhawk helicopter in New York. The pilot was unaware of temporary drone flight restrictions at the time due to military operations. The helicopter suffered minor damage, and the drone was completely destroyed.
A similar incident occurred last October when a drone collided with a commercial airliner in Canada as it was descending to land. The aircraft was able to land safely and no injuries were reported.
The FAA has been proactive, changing current regulations often regarding drones, in an attempt to stay ahead of a growing concern that may prove to be inevitable — a major crash of civilian, commercial or military aircraft as a result of a collision with a drone.
Automated waiver system
The FAA has begun a beta test roll-out of a new online automated waiver request system, the Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC). This system was developed as an alternative to drone pilots calling air traffic controllers directly following complaints by air traffic control at busy airports in not having proper time and resources available to dedicate towards approving and monitoring every drone flight request.
While LAANC has become active at select airports across Oregon, the Crater Lake-Klamath Regional Airport was not included among those chosen for the LAANC initial activation, likely due to its high amount of military air traffic as a result of the presence of the 173rd Fighter Wing of the Oregon Air National Guard at Kingsley Air Base — the lone active F-15 training base in the United States.
“It is a matter of getting people to understand that they need to know and follow the rules, it’s an education thing,” said Tepper. “The FAA regulations seem to change every time you turn around, so go to their website every time first to make sure pilots are compliant.”
Tepper did note that the public has become better about reporting suspicious drone operations regionally, and law enforcement is more aware of regulations and how to manage the situation when a potentially illegal flight is viewed. If residents spot a suspicious, potentially illegal drone flight, they are asked to report it by calling 9-1-1.
For more information about current FAA regulations regarding drones visit www.faa.gov/DroneZone/.