Security personnel at Citizens’ Bank Park in Philadelphia scrambled and went into high alert during a Phillies game in late May when a small unmanned drone flew near the ballpark. The episode, which is being investigated by the Federal Aviation Administration, is a cautionary tale for drone pilots all around the country.
The incident occurred during an afternoon ballgame on May 31, 2015. A small drone appeared outside the ballpark and hovered, apparently looking into the park. Security personnel quickly apprehended the pilot, but they released him after determining that he was a hobbyist who only wanted to take photos of the game. They extracted a promise from him to delete the photos he had taken and no criminal charges were pressed.
The next day, the FAA announced that it was investigating the incident to determine whether the pilot had violated its rules barring unmanned aircraft systems (UASs), including drones, from flying over or near Major League Baseball games and other sporting events. The incident occurred at an awkward time for the FAA, which has effectively conceded that its rules for UASs are outmoded and in need of revision to account for the explosive popularity of new small, high-tech drones.
New Proposed Regulations for Drones
Just a few months before the incident, the FAA issued new proposed regulations for drones that would require drone operators to be at least 17 years old, pass an aeronautical knowledge test, and obtain an FAA UAS operator certificate. The proposed rules would also require drones to always be within the operator’s line of sight and to fly no higher than 500 feet, or faster than 100 mph. In addition, the proposed rules would prohibit drone flights over people, in airport flight paths, and restricted airspace; and they would require the operator to discontinue any flight that could pose a hazard to other aircraft, people, or property.
The FAA’s proposed rules have not been finalized, which means that the agency’s pre-existing rules, enacted in 1990, were in effect at the time of the Citizens Bank Park incident. Those rules are much more restrictive for drone operators. To legally fly a drone under the existing FAA regulations, a private operator would have to obtain an airworthiness certificate from the agency. The agency issues these certificates only for very limited uses, including commercial operations in low-risk, controlled environments and for experimental aircraft conducting research and development flights, training, or flight demonstrations.
Fortunately for that operator, neither the old FAA rules nor the new FAA rules impose any criminal sanctions for violations, but they do authorize the agency to levy a civil penalty of up to $50,000 for a single violation. Drone operators concerned about the legality of their flights should consult a South Jersey criminal lawyer with experience in defending government enforcement actions.
South Jersey Criminal Lawyers at Agre & St. John Provide Quality Criminal Defense
South Jersey criminal lawyers of the Law Offices of Agre & St. John have experience in criminal defense, legal ethics, trial practice, and personal injury litigation. We are dedicated to providing our clients with the highest quality legal representation. From our offices located in historic Haddonfield, New Jersey our criminal lawyers in South Jersey serve clients throughout Camden County including Cherry Hill, Burlington County, Gloucester County, Cumberland County, and Salem County. To arrange an initial consultation, call 856-428-7797 or contact us online.