Hurricane Florence drone disaster relief FAA

Flying drones around Hurricane Florence? Here’s what you need to know

As Hurricane Florence continues with continued heavy rainfall and flooding expected to come, drones could also make an appearance in the disaster relief or post-storm analysis efforts.

But for pilots looking to fly drones in the area, there are limits to where you can fly the Federal Aviation Administration warns.

The FAA has issued a Special Notice restricting drone operations supporting Hurricane Florence recovery efforts to an altitude of 200 feet above the ground while operating in North and South Carolina.  Drones typically can fly up to 400 feet above the ground.

All drone pilots should also check NOTAMS before flying in hurricane-affected areas. Most of the airports and air traffic control facilities in the hurricane’s path closed due to the storm.  Flying a drone without authorization in or near the disaster area may unintentionally disrupt rescue operations and violate federal, state, or local laws and ordinances, and could result in a fine.

Hurricane Florence made landfall on Friday with sustained winds of 90 mph, and 11 deaths have been blamed on the storm, according to the National Hurricane Center. That same day, the FAA turned off its Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC) system for airports (Fayetteville, Florence, Wilmington and Jacksonville airports in North Carolina and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina) in Hurricane Florence’s path. LAANC is a fairly recent system that enables drone operators to receive real-time airspace authorizations, allowing pilots to apply for instant approval to fly in otherwise-restricted airspace.

The FAA said in a statement that it expects to restore LAANC at the affected facilities within 30 days.

And of course, all drone operators are required to give way to manned aircraft at all times.

That being said, drones could be incredibly useful in aiding with relief efforts in the wake of the storm.

” I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that the hurricane response will be looked back upon as a landmark in the evolution of drone usage in this country,” said former FAA Administrator Michael Huerta in the wake of Hurricane Irma, which struck Florida in 2017.

During that hurricane, the Air National Guard used drones to perform aerial surveys to assess disaster-stricken areas quickly and decide which are the most in need of assistance. TheU.S. Customs and Border Protection sent drones from Corpus Christi to Florida to help map areas in Key West, Miami and Jacksonville, using radar to survey geographic points on infrastructure such as power plants for The Federal Emergency Management Agency. Airbus Aerial helped insurance companies act more quickly on claims coming in from homeowners by combining data from drones, manned aircraft and satellite data to give a clearer overall image of specific locations before and after an incident.

In the wake of Hurricane Maria that same year, drones provided cell service to Puerto Rico.

If drone operators need to fly in controlled airspace or a disaster TFR to support the response and recovery, operators must contact the FAA’s System Operations Support Center (SOSC) by emailing 9-ATOR-HQ-SOSC@faa.gov the informationthey need to authorize access to the airspace.

One Comment

  • Rick R says:

    What I find interesting, the FAA threatens heavy fines and penalties for a drone flight violation of the airspace rules. (Rightly so),yet just a week or so ago, when a unit was shot out of the sky and previously as well, they were silent when a pilot needed their protection.

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