Rules are murky in drone debate
DETROIT (WJBK) - SkyFOX was high above a massive fire at a vacant Detroit church Thursday, but apparently our chopper wasn't the only thing in the skies.
Someone else was flying a drone overhead. The Federal Aviation Administration has warned that those drones can be dangerous to helicopters and planes. But the rules are still a bit murky.
When the flames go up - so does Alex Haggart's drone.
"It was quite a big one," Alex said. "I think I have done about a dozen to 20 drone fires now in the city of Detroit."
Smoke and flames could be seen shooting from a vacant church on Meldrum Street in Detroit and if you look closely - you can see Haggart's drone.
Through technology, Haggart is able to take images and video of the fire scene, which he says is welcomed by the Detroit Fire Department.
"A lot of the fire department likes it because they can see themselves working as well as it gives them a good overall view of the scene," Haggart said. "A lot of the fires are arson related. I don't know if they use it as evidence but I have no problem turning it over to those requested."
But not everybody is on board. Total Traffic and Weather Network pilots, who fly SkyFOX and worked to capture video of the same fire scene, claim Haggart was flying dangerously in their airspace, and that supervisors plan to file a complaint with the FAA.
"They need to stay five miles away from airport. They were also within about three miles from city airport," said a metro traffic pilot, who asked to have his name removed from this story. "It could be catastrophic if we were to have a collision with a drone. It go through the windshield; it could go into the tail rotor, into the main rotor system, and basically cause the helicopter to crash."
The chopper saw the drone in time and was able to avoid it, although Haggart said a second drone was at the scene run by a different operator.
There is much debate on whether it is safe to fly a drone. The FAA has just relaxed some of its restrictions, allowing drones to fly up to 400 feet anywhere in the country except in restricted airspace - where Total Traffic and Weather Network Chopper claims Haggart's drone was flying.
"I was not asked to leave," Haggart said. "I was flying upwind and in a safe area. While my footage looked like I was directly over top, the way the camera works I can actually be back a little bit. I was actually across the street in a vacant field being respectful of those that were doing the job below."
Haggart says if anyone is questioning where or when he flew - it's easy to see - all of it is tracked by his cell phone. He said if the FAA would like to check it out, he would be happy to let them.