No drone zone: Receive a drone as a gift? Hurlburt Field has some guidelines. – The Northwest Florida Daily News

HURLBURT FIELD — In military terms, a news release issued Thursday by the 1st Special Operations Wing (1st SOW) at Hurlburt Field could be considered something of a preemptive strike regarding some holiday gift-giving.
The release from the host unit at the installation, headquarters of Air Force Special Operations Command, reminds residents and visitors that “for flight safety reasons, it is illegal to fly unmanned aircraft systems, or ‘drones’ within 5 miles of Hurlburt Field.”
According to 2nd Lt. Jason Barkey, the 1st SOW public affairs officer, there have not been any encounters with civilian drones to his knowledge. But he said in an emailed response to questions from the Daily News that “with the holidays approaching, we just wanted to remind anyone who may receive one (as a holiday gift) of the existing guidelines.”
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Barkey said the primary concern regarding civilian drones operating at or near Hurlburt Field “is flight safety and interfering with our aircraft and aircrew.” He added that drones “can be very difficult to spot, move erratically and can cause significant damage to aircraft.”
Barkey also noted that there are concerns about security incursions associated with civilian drones, particularly those equipped with still cameras or video cameras, operating within prohibited airspace in and around Hurlburt.
“… (T)here is certainly an operational security concern with unauthorized aircraft capable of taking high-resolution imagery of operations and equipment on the installation.” 
The Federal Aviation Administration requires that drones be registered with the agency, and in general, recreational users can fly drones only in uncontrolled airspace at no more than 400 feet above the ground.
As an additional means to keep recreational drone users out of restricted airspace such as the 5-mile area around Hurlburt Field and other military installations, many drones are equipped with “geofencing” technology that automatically keeps them out of disallowed airspace.
In its news release, the 1st SOW refers those interested in drone operations to the FAA website, at https://www.faa.gov/uas/, which the release calls “a great tool for new and existing UAS (Unmanned Aircraft Systems, or drone) enthusiasts.”
The FAA website also includes, at https://bit.ly/3pmoqFH, an exhaustive set of links to a wide array of FAA information on drones and drone operations. 
Beyond the FAA website, anyone with questions about operating a civilian drone in the area of Hurlburt Field can call the 1st SOW public affairs office at (850) 884-7906 or (850) 884-6988, or can email questions to 1sow.wpa1@us.af.mil.
The FAA takes reports of drones operating dangerously from the public, pilots and law enforcement personnel, and now receives more than 100 such reports each month, according to the agency’s website.
The agency publishes those reports quarterly on its website, along with a notice that it “wants to send out a clear message that operating drones around airplanes, helicopters and airports is dangerous and illegal” and a reminder that “unauthorized operators may be subject to stiff fines and criminal charges, including possible jail time.” 
The notice also states that the FAA “encourages the public to report unauthorized drone operations to local law enforcement and to help discourage this dangerous, illegal activity.”
The agency’s most recently released list of reported sightings, covering the period from July to September, includes a number of reports from Northwest Florida that, although they don’t specifically mention military installation, nonetheless indicate some prevalence of problematic UAS operations.
According to the latest FAA compilation of UAS reports, the area around Pensacola International Airport sees its share of such operations.
According to that report, there were two incidents reported July 8 and July 21 by private pilots flying near the airport. Another incident was reported on Sept. 28, according to the FAA.
But the most serious Pensacola International Airport incident reported to the FAA came in August, when an airborne pilot’s report of a UAS prompted the airport to switch operations from one runway to another runway.
Elsewhere in the area, a private pilot reported July 3 of seeing a UAS near Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport in Panama City, according to the FAA.

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