Last updated: 01:37 PM ET, Thu November 19 2015

Drone Operator Receives Stiff Penalty

Impacting Travel | Rich Thomaselli | November 19, 2015

Drone Operator Receives Stiff Penalty

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

With holiday sales of drones expected to rise, and the Federal Aviation Administration due to deliver official regulations regarding drone registration on Friday, a Los Angeles man has received a stiff penalty for flying an unmanned device too close to a police helicopter.

The penalty could be a precursor to punishments for irresponsible operation of unmanned devices, something that has been on the FAA’s radar since putting together a task force earlier this fall to investigate the rising use of drones and their encounters with commercial aircraft.

Martin Sheldon, 57, pleaded no contest to obstructing a police officer on Aug. 27, according to the Los Angeles Times. Sheldon was flying his drone too close to a Los Angeles Police Department helicopter that was hovering over a crime scene as ground police searched for a man wanted for assault with a deadly weapon.

Sheldon’s sentence included three years’ probation, 30 days of community service, a demand to relinquish his $6,000 worth of drone equipment, and a promise not to own or fly a drone or any other unmanned remote aircraft during probation.

"Interfering with a police investigation through the careless operation of a drone places our officers and the public at serious risk,” Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer said in a statement. “This conviction sends a strong message that we will hold those who recklessly operate these devices accountable for their actions.”

And will certainly make drone owners and operators think long and hard about where they fly their devices.

Up to 1 million drones could be sold during this holiday season based on unofficial estimates released by the FAA, according to CBS Tampa Bay.

Seven percent of shoppers will likely purchase an unmanned aerial vehicle over the holidays, according to the Consumer Technology Association.

“It’s not a toy,” Alexander Carson, chief executive officer of Florida company SkyView HD, told WKMG. “As much as everybody wants to think they are, they’re not toys... My concern is that somebody is going to fly one up really high and actually hit an airplane.”

According to multiple media outlets, the FAA’s task force on drone registration will recommend as early as Friday that the agency require drone operators to obtain a single registration number. However, the FAA will not require unique identification of the individual drones themselves.

The agency earlier this week insisted in a statement that registration would be easy and warned drone owners not to utilize companies or websites already offering to register drones on your behalf.

"Unmanned aircraft users should know they probably won't need help registering their drones when the system is in place," the FAA said in a statement

The FAA’s recommended guideline is to fly drones below 400 feet at all times and never within five miles of an airport.


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