Shoot Down A Drone And You Could Face Jail Time And More

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Shoot Down A Drone And You Could Face Jail Time And More

Bullet holes in my s900 props

Bullet holes in my s900 props

Before you consider shooting down a drone, whether you plan on using a shotgun or an air cannon, you should remember this fact – you could face jail time and more. Drone operators have rights, and not only are drones private property, they are also considered by the FAA to be legitimate aircraft.

Like many drone pilots, my quadcopters have been shot at. My DJI S900 with a GH4 and Z15 mount was shot at by a, to remain nameless, drunk and unruly neighbor. Hat’s off to DJI because my drone remained airborne and safely returned back to me, even after being hit multiple times. I count myself very lucky to have not lost any of my very expensive equipment. If my neighbor was a better shot and he had hit the 16000 6s Pulse lipo battery, I believe between fire and crash damage that the craft would have been a complete loss.

In the final ruling of the infamous Pirker case, the National Transit Safety Board (NTSB) had a few interesting things to say. I’m going to let John Goglia of Fortune magazine paraphrase and summarize a bit here.

In conclusion, the NTSB stated “this case calls upon us to ascertain a clear, reasonable definition of “aircraft” for purposes of the prohibition on careless and reckless operation in

[the Federal Aviation Regulation]. We must look no further than the clear, unambiguous plain language [of the statute]” that an “ aircraft” is any “device” used for flight in the air.” The NTSB stated that this included “any aircraft, manned or unmanned, large or small.”

NTSB Overturns Pirker Case: Finds For FAA That Drones Are Aircraft Subject To Its Rules

After that ruling from the NTSB, it’s clear in my opinion that both the NTSB and FAA have the official position that drones are aircraft because they can be categorized “as any aircraft, manned or unmanned, large or small,” “used for flight in the air.”

Why is this important? It means drones are afforded the same legal protections and rights as their larger, manned aircraft counterparts. So if you induce a crash by shooting at a drone, you could find yourself in hot water, fast.

(a) Whoever willfully—

(1) sets fire to, damages, destroys, disables, or wrecks any aircraft in the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States or any civil aircraft used, operated, or employed in interstate, overseas, or foreign air commerce;

…shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years or both.

18 U.S. Code § 32 – Destruction of aircraft or aircraft facilities

That alone would make me think twice before I decide to willfully damage another person’s property. Since I’m not a lawyer, by any stretch, I wanted to reference some real legal opinion on the matter.

“In my legal opinion,” says Peter Sachs, a Connecticut attorney and publisher of Drone Law Journal “it is never okay to shoot at a drone, shoot down a drone, or otherwise damage, destroy or disable a drone, or attempt to do so. Doing so is a federal crime.”

“This applies even if a drone is hovering over your backyard,” says Sachs. “According to the FAA, it controls all airspace from the blades of the grass up. However, even if you did own X feet above your property, you would not be permitted to shoot a drone that flies within that space because shooting any aircraft is a federal crime.”

Numerous states have “peeping tom laws” that restrict voyeurism. It’s still prohibited to shoot a drone down, even if it’s voyeurism-by-drone. That said, there’s a tremendous contrast between a drone making the plunge through an open kitchen window, and one that is hovering around a neighborhood or park. On the off chance that there’s a drone taking pictures or filming a movie around your house the pilot in command (PIC) is inside of his or her First Amendment rights, Sachs says.

About Peter Sachs

By |2017-08-31T15:24:20-08:00September 25th, 2015|Drone Law, Drones, Opinion|Comments Off on Shoot Down A Drone And You Could Face Jail Time And More

About the Author:

Michael Robbins
Mr. Michael Robbins, who resides in Northern California, is our drone tech expert with over 30 years of experience. He started his career building gas powered UAVs at age 12. He has since earned a Bachelor's of Science degree in Design and Engineering and is AutoCAD certified. He has worked with the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Animal Planet, Travel Channel, Hearst Castle, CNN, Adobe, Oracle, HP, Cisco Systems, Discovery Channel, National Geographic and NASA. With a passion for aviation, Mr. Robbins spends his spare time studying for his Commercial Pilot’s License.