The northern hemisphere summer has produced an unfortunate aviation first – the first time a firefighting aircraft has been formally grounded by a drone.
Two fixed-wing aircraft fighting an 8000 ha fire in the San Bernardino mountains, inland of Los Angeles were grounded after a drone, thought to have been flown by a hobbyist, was seen flying between them about 5.30pm on Wednesday 24 June.
A local radio station reported the fixed-wing unmanned aerial vehicle was about 900 feet above ground level (AGL). In the US, as in Australia, drones are restricted to 400 feet AGL.
The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, (Cal Fire) tweeted: ‘Tonight a hobby drone grounded firefighting aircraft by flying over the #LakeFire. When you fly…we CAN’T! Puts our pilots’ lives at risk.’
Tonight a hobby drone grounded firefighting aircraft by flying over the #LakeFire. When you fly…we CAN’T! Puts our pilots lives at risk.
— CAL FIRE PIO Berlant (@CALFIRE_PIO) June 25, 2015
Cal Fire said it had contacted the sheriff’s department.
California is undergoing a severe bushfire season that comes after four years of drought.
In Australia, as in the US, interfering with aerial firefighting by using a drone is illegal, and carries heavy fines. CASA has produced and distributed this flyer, to explain and deter.
Australian aerial firefighting operators have called for exclusion zones of up to 5 nm (9.2 km) from bushfires.