CFS to ground aerial firefighting fleet if a drone is spotted near a bushfire

CFS to ground aerial firefighting fleet if a drone is spotted near a bushfire

21  November 2014

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Australia —  The South Australian Country Fire Service (CFS) says it will cease aerial firefighting operations if a drone is spotted in the vicinity of a bushfire.

State aviation operations manager David Pearce said unmanned aerial systems (UAVs) were the fastest growing section of the aviation industry and were expected to number 15 billion worldwide by the end of the year.

He said drones could be lethal to aircraft, regardless of size, much like a bird strike that “took down an airliner” if it hit the wrong spot.

“Helicopters are particularly susceptible,” Mr Pearce said.

“If the drone is sucked into the intake of the jet engines, or goes into the tail rotor, then it’s probably curtains for the helicopter.”

Mr Pearce said firefighting aircraft would be immediately grounded if a UAV was spotted either near, or within, a fire zone.

A statement would then be issued through the media asking the operator to cease and for witnesses to report the operator to police.

“It would be a terrible disaster to have a drone bring down an aerial firefighting aircraft,” Mr Pearce said.

Aerial Agricultural Association of Australia chief executive Phil Hurst wanted the flying of a drone in a bushfire zone to be an offence and said maximum penalties of $50,000 should apply.

“There’s been an absolutely massive increase in the number of drones being sold into Australia and the law has to catch up,” he said.

“We have to send a clear message that there are real responsibilities attached to owning and operating a drone or UAV whether for hobby or for commercial purposes.”

Australian Certified UAV Operators Association president Joe Urli said a $50,000 figure could be “too conservative”.

“It just depends on the actual risk and impact to the operations,” he said.

“A more mature, robust enforcement regime is probably more effective and a nominal figure may not be the right answer.

“It is certainly moving towards the right direction.”

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