It seems that Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca thinks he’s above the law. Normally he’d be right.
But Baca’s department demonstrated a custom designed unmanned surveillance drone to the media last week. The problem? They ignored written counsel from the Federal Aviation Administration, which had told the Sheriff’s Department that flying the drone would require certification from the Feds before flight would be allowed.
They flew the drone anyway.
“I wouldn’t want to term us as peeved, but we were definitely surprised,” FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown said. Sheriff’s officials were told “that we were more than willing to sit down and talk about a certificate — but that was before their first flight.”
The FAA is now investigating Friday’s demonstration to determine whether the Sheriff’s Department should face disciplinary action.
Until the investigation is over, Brown said, the agency will not authorize the county’s use of the drones.
The way I see it, pilots and aircraft operators of all sizes all have to go through certification. We pay the price in time, money, and effort in order to use the national airspace system. Now Lee Baca thinks he can just purchase a couple dozen drones and fly them around the Los Angeles area with impunity?
I don’t think so.
If the LAPD wants regulatory relief from the FAA, they can get in line with the rest of us.
Sheriff’s officials dismissed the conflict as a misunderstanding that would soon be cleared up. But they were incredulous about what they consider red tape getting in the way of their law enforcement tool.
There’s no misunderstanding. The FAA considers the drone to be an aircraft requiring certification. The Sheriff’s Department took a different view and decided that they were not only the boss of the streets, but the final authority in the air as well. Don’t need to be coy, Roy.
“A private citizen can go to the store and buy one of those model airplanes and fly them around. But because we’re doing it as a public service, we have to deal with the FAA?” said Sheriff’s Cmdr. Sid Heal. Once they “take a deep breath and realize there was no malice intended, it will get back on track.”
No, you don’t have to deal with the FAA “because you’re doing it as a public service”. You have to deal with the FAA because you’re operating something the Feds have determined requires certification. Obviously they don’t consider it a model airplane. You disagree with the FAA? Join the club. But they are the ones who administer law in the air, and if I have to follow their mandates, so do you. Hop on the bus, Gus.
And if malicious intent was a benchmark for FAA enforcement, the world would be a much different place my friend.
Baca said Wednesday that he was unaware of the FAA investigation but downplayed the dispute.
“There’s no reason for the FAA to be concerned,” he said, calling the drones “non-invasive and nearly silent.”
Since when is Lee Baca an expert on the National Airspace System? Is he aware that there are well over 100 instrument approach procedures in use in the Los Angeles basin? Does he know where Class E surface areas are located and what might be in them during marginal conditions?
Without the proper training, one of these drones could easily collide with an airplane coming out of the clouds. Pilots know this and are trained to maintain appropriate distance from clouds when flying under visual flight rules so there will be enough time for evasive action.
What will his response be when an airplane, helicopter, blimp, or other craft has a midair or near-midair with one of these harmless objects? Is he aware of the location and dimensions of protected airspace around runways? Does he know that helicopters fly as low as 50′ off the deck at times? Of course not. But he’s the Sheriff, and nobody’d better mess with him on his turf.
My advice? Make a new plan, Stan.