FAA guides local Law Enforcement Agencies on handling unauthorised UAV operations - Pager Power
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FAA guides local Law Enforcement Agencies on handling unauthorised UAV operations

FAA guides local Law Enforcement Agencies on handling unauthorised UAV operations
February 16, 2015 Amy Sudbury

Unmanned Aerial Vehicle in FlightDrones, Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). Whatever you  refer to them as their use is growing, along with the need to address legal operating concerns.

Early last month the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) published guidelines for United States (US) local Law Enforcement on how to manage encounters with UAV operators who are unauthorised or flying unsafely or both.

The Guidance

The 12 page document entitled “Law Enforcement Guidance for Suspected Unauthorized UAS Operations” details how the local police can be of great help to the national aviation authority of the US by following six steps that are broadly outlined below:

US Law Enforcement Officer

  1. Identify and conduct an initial interview with any witnesses to the event, so that the FAA can follow up.
  2. Identify the operator of the UAV.
  3. Document the location of the event through photos and getting event witnesses to use mapped landmarks in their description, making it easier to fix the position of the UAV.
  4. Identify sensitive locations, events or activities. (These may have special restrictions to the airspace above such as Temporary Flight Restrictions.)
  5. Immediately notify the FAA by contacting one of their Regional Operation Centers.
  6. Collect evidence of UAV operation. This could be from security footage or UAV identification numbers, if applicable. Not all have them.

No arrests

On page seven of the guidance, the FAA acknowledges that some law enforcement processes do not comply with the FAA’s administrative enforcement actions. They give arrests and non-consensual searches as an example.

However this can change if the UAV operator’s flying is deemed to be endangering people, property or other aircraft. This can also amended if the operator is flying a commercial drone without an exemption from the national aviation body.

Commercial Drone Guidelines in the US

According the Law Enforcement guidance, in order to fly a commercial drone flights must be:

  • Operated with a certificated or exempted UAV that has a valid registration number (“N-number”)
  • Have “specific FAA authorization (Certificate of Waiver or Authorization)

At time of writing the FAA have granted exemptions to 25 companies [1], and on the 3rd February the FAA had received 342 requests [2]. It is believed that these figures will only increase in the future.


Law Enforcement Guidance for Suspected Unauthorized UAS Operations”, U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Aviation Administration, published online on 2nd January 2015. (Last accessed 10/02/2015)

[1] Section 333, Federal Aviation Administration. (Last accessed 10/02/2015)

[2] U.S. FAA grants eight more exemptions for commercial use of drones, reporting by Eric Beech, Editing by Doina Chiacu via Reuters. (Last accessed 10/02/2015).

Image accreditations: “casper” by Robyn Jay via Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0 / Image cropped and resized from original.

17.MotorEscort.Before.26thCandle.NLEOM.WDC.13May2014” by Elvert Barnes via Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0 / Image Cropped and resized from original.


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