WASHINGTON—U.S. Senators Mitt Romney (R-UT) and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) introduced the Aerial Incursion Repercussion (AIR) Safety Act, legislation to study the effects of drone incursions on wildfire suppression and costs. When an unauthorized drone enters temporarily restricted air space during efforts to control wildfires, all aerial firefighting tools must be grounded. Companion legislation has been introduced in the House of Representatives by Representatives John Curtis (R-UT) and Jared Huffman (D-CA).
“In a wildfire, every minute counts for the firefighters trying to extinguish the flames. In Utah, time and again, we’ve seen drone incursions cost our firefighters valuable response time—jeopardizing lives and property,” Senator Romney said. “Our legislation empowers the BLM, in conjunction with the Forest Service, to study how pervasive this problem is and report its true costs to wildfire suppression efforts. From there, we will be able to advance solutions that deter and remove these unauthorized drones from wildfire areas.”
“Western states like Nevada are seeing increased wild and rangeland fires year-round, in part as a result of the climate crisis. We need to be doing everything we can to fight these fires and restore our landscapes, but unauthorized drones are increasingly getting in the way, including at the Dome Fire near Battle Mountain in 2019,” Senator Cortez Masto said. “With data on how often unauthorized drones interfere with those efforts, we’ll be better able to find solutions and institute guardrails that make sure firefighting aircraft are able to perform their important work safely.”
“Too often, our wildland firefighters are held back from critical fire mitigation efforts because of unauthorized drone use,” Representative Curtis said. “I am excited to work with Senator Cortez Masto, Senator Romney, and Representative Huffman to bring attention to the unintended consequences that these drone incursions have on our fire suppression efforts. The results of this study will be a great help to land managers and policymakers who are working together to mitigate wildfires and their damage.”
“Wildfires have caused enormous devastation to families, businesses, and communities in my district and across western states. First responders risk life and limb to protect public lands and communities from the threat of these fires, but unauthorized drones are hampering their efforts and putting our communities at risk,” Representative Huffman said. “Last year, we introduced the AIR Safety Act in the House to address the challenges and safety risks posed by unlawful drone interference. I’m glad to see this effort taken up by Senators Cortez Masto and Romney so we can take the next important step in ensuring first responders are able to do their jobs and protect lives and homes.”
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) often establishes Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs) around wildfires to protect aircraft that are involved in firefighting operations. All aircraft (including drones) are prohibited from flying in the TFR unless they are involved in the firefighting operations. According to the FAA, interference from private drones has rapidly increased, exceeding 100 cases a year. The AIR Safety Act would analyze these incursions and help determine how much time and money is wasted on combatting these occurrences. With better data, Congress will be able to prevent the incursions in the first place or more easily remove drones that have interfered with firefighting activities.
Specifically, the AIR Safety Act would:
- Determine, for each of the five most recently completed calendar years, the number of occurrences in which a drone incursion interfered with wildfire suppression, and the effect each occurrence had on lands managed by the Department of the Interior (DOI) or the U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA);
- Evaluate the feasibility and effectiveness of various actions to prevent drone incursions, including educational campaigns and the seizure or destruction of drones;
- Provide a report to Congress, including recommendations.
Full text of the bill is available here.