Drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles, are becoming popular as recreational items, in addition to the many more serious uses that they have. Drone use is increasing everywhere and drone technology is increasingly becoming more sophisticated. But is drone use completely legal? Are there any limits to the use of drones and can you be arrested if you use a drone illegally?
We will concentrate on the amateur, i.e. non commercial use of drones, in this article. It is worth understanding what you can and cannot do with a drone in Alaska before you actually buy one and certainly use one, or you do risk being charged with an offense. It would be a pity to come to Alaska on vacation and end up searching for a criminal defense attorney to defend you from a potential conviction, whether it is justified or not.
Some drone offenses can certainly cop hefty penalties and there is no use saying you didn’t know what you were doing was illegal. Ignorance of the law is no defense in Alaska, or anywhere else in the U.S. for that matter. The main illegal uses of drones are described below, although the list is by no means exhaustive.
Drones used for commercial purposes must be registered with the FAA
Drones that are owned by an amateur pilot and not used for any commercial purposes do not have to be registered with the Federal Aviation Authority. Take care that you don’t get involved in any commercial activities or are seen to be aiding a commercial activity, even a tourist related one, such as looking at wildlife, or this could lead to a very serious charge if you haven’t registered the drone with the FAA.
Drones must be in sight of the pilot at all times
This is a state rule and is an easy one to fall foul of. Some drone users let their drone stray out of sight, e.g. while allowing the drone to explore a river or forest top, but this definitely illegal.
Drones must not be flown in national parks
If you go and visit one of Alaska’s national parks like Denali, there is a temptation to use your drone to look for interesting wildlife like grizzlies, or moose, but this is illegal. It may affect the behavior of wildlife and annoy other visitors. If you intend visiting any part of Alaska that you know has some sort of conservation status like a state park, you should find out first of all from the administration that is in charge whether it is legal for you to use your drone here, or whether there are any restrictions.
Drones must not be used to help you hunt
This rule was made by the Alaskan Game Board in 2014 after it was reported to troopers that some amateur hunters were using drones to give them an advantage over other hunters when searching for big game.
Drones must not be used to find salmon in SE Alaskan waters to help commercial fishermen
As an amateur drone owner, you may know that you should not let your drone be used for commercial purposes, but this is a specific Alaskan rule. The rule applies only to specific areas of the South East and only within the Alaskan commercial salmon fishing season.
Drones must not be used to invade the privacy of others or over private property without the permission of the owners
As long as you have your drone in sight at all times, this should not be an issue, but it might be tempting to go and have a closer look at someone or a group of people without their consent. This could easily lead to prosecution if the incident was reported to the police.
In addition to the rules above, which it must be stressed are not exhaustive, it is possible that Alaska might soon catch up with what is happening to drone laws in other states. It is commonplace for there to be a lag effect between the emergence of technology and laws to regulate its use and enforcement of those laws to be brought into place. The most likely law that might be enacted in Alaska in the next few years is the prohibition against using a drone if drunk, or at least with a BAC of more than 0.08, as is the case with driving. New Jersey is the first state to introduce this law on 1st May this year. Violators in that state could face a $1,000 fine and /or six months in prison.
If you have been charged with a serious drone offense yet maintain that your actions have been misinterpreted or the allegations are untrue, you should get legal representation. A criminal conviction can cause lasting harm to your job, career prospects and family security. Contact a criminal defense attorney at the Law Firm of Dattan Scott Dattan in Anchorage. The phone number is (907) 276-8008.