November 15, 2019
Washington, DC—This week, Representatives John Curtis (R-UT) and Jared Huffman (D-CA), both members of the House Natural Resources Committee, introduced the Aerial Incursion Repercussion (AIR) Safety Act, bipartisan legislation to raise awareness on issues interfering with wildfire fighting by directing the Bureau of Land Management and the USDA Forest Service to conduct a study on how drone trespassing has affected wildfire suppression and costs.
“When wildfire breaks out, our brave firefighters need to protect lives and property. When unauthorized drones enter a wildfire area, firefighters must ground helicopters and their own drones—both critical components to wildland firefighting—until the drone is removed. This means that far too often valuable time and resources are spent removing civilian drones instead of containing and suppressing fire,” said Curtis. “That is why I am proud to introduce the Aerial Incursion Repercussion (AIR) Safety Act with my friend Mr. Huffman, to study how private drones flown near wildfire hinders suppression efforts and start looking at solutions that will help deter and remove unauthorized drones. I am confident that this will spur a much needed discussion on the state of our forests and how we can better manage them to reduce the risk of fire and the damage they cause.
“Wildfires have caused enormous devastation to families, businesses, and communities in my district. The idea that anyone would interfere with the heroic efforts of firefighters and other first responders is unthinkable,” said Huffman. “The AIR Safety Act is an important step in addressing the challenges and safety risks posed by unlawful drone interference and ensuring first responders are able to do their jobs and protect lives and homes.”
Statement of Support:
Greg Josten, National Association of State Foresters President; South Dakota State Forester:
“We already know that flying personal drones where wildland firefighters are actively suppressing wildfires puts the civilian operator, their neighbors, and wildland firefighting personnel in danger. The slogan is true, and state forestry agencies know it all too well: If you fly, we can’t. Now, it’s time to quantify all the deleterious effects of drone incursions on wildfire fighting airspace. With hard numbers to support needed change, we’ll be better positioned to prevent costly delays and shutdowns and protect both property and lives.”
Brian Cottam, Utah State Forester:
“In Utah, we have seen drone incursions continue to endanger firefighter and public safety. Congressman Curtis’s AIR Safety Act is a step in the right direction to reveal the extent of drone disruption in wildfire suppression and help put a stop to this dangerous behavior.”
The Federal Aviation Administration sets Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs) around wildfires. Although laws exist prohibiting interference with wildfire fighting, many people fly their private drones within TFRs to take pictures and videos of the fire.
When unauthorized drones enter TFRs, events known as drone incursions, all aerial firefighting tools – including helicopters dropping flame retardant – must be grounded, resulting in valuable time and money being wasted that could otherwise be used to suppress the fire and save lives and property.
The bipartisan AIR Safety Act will bring attention to this issue and help determine the best ways to avoid future drone incursions.
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