Colorado Lawmakers Want to Make It a Felony to Fly a Drone over a Wildfire

The Securing Airspace For Emergency Responders Act aims to make flying drones over wildfires a felony, as it impedes vital firefighting operations.

RJ Sangosti/Denver Post via Getty Images

Interfering with police investigations, search and rescue operations, and firefighting efforts because you just can’t help yourself from flying a drone nearby is not only irresponsible and dangerous, but could potentially become a federal crime. According to The Denver Post, several Colorado lawmakers are trying to urge Congress to pass a bill that would make flying unmanned aerial vehicles over wildfires a felony.

On Wednesday, Senators Cory Gardner (R-Colorado), Michael Bennet (D-Colorado), and Representative Scott Tipton (R-Colorado) introduced the Securing Airspace For Emergency Responders Act, which would fine people for flying UAVs over wildfires without authorization, and potentially send them to jail for a year. 

While one could reasonably argue against certain drone regulations that encroach on personal freedoms and citizens’ rights, we’ve seen far too many incidents of recreational drone users impeding the efforts of those in charge of saving our lives. Rep. Tipton, for one, believes it’s vital to protect firefighters from unwelcome drones so that they can properly do their jobs.

“When an unauthorized drone flies over a wildfire, it poses a huge threat to aircraft working to suppress the fire and forces them to ground,” said Tipton in a statement. Steve Hall, a spokesman for Colorado’s office of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, staunchly echoed that sentiment, claiming that firefighters face enough of a challenge navigating smoky and turbulent conditions while piloting firefighting aircraft, that adding rogue drones to the mix would only increase danger and hamper their efforts. On top of that, Hall explained that once an unauthorized drone is observed during a wildfire, firefighters ground their planes. 

Similarly, we’ve seen airline officials and aviation experts warn against the reported increase in near-misses between commercial aircraft and drones, as even a small hobby drone could damage an engine or pose as a disorienting vessel for pilots. 

The unauthorized proximity between drones and aircraft has already resulted in direct collisions, which could have ended disastrously. Firefighter pilots, through these Colorado lawmakers, are merely attempting to join the chorus here, as they have some of the same concerns that airline pilots have, but during substantial wildfire operations. While this may come as yet another potential restriction on recreational drone use to some, it should be stated clearly that hampering people from saving lives shouldn’t be allowed in any way, especially if the only freedom it robs you of is flying your camera-drone for a few days.

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