More Drones Means More Encounters With Police Helicopters

May 16, 2017

CMPD helicopter pilots say they are encountering more drones as they patrol above Charlotte. They say it's partly due to growth in the number of drones, but also a lack of knowledge about the rules.

Coty Brown says he and fellow CMPD pilots are watching more carefully these days as more people send up drones. 

Credit Ben Bradford / WFAE

"We're probably seeing one a week now, where before we were seeing none. Zero. So we're seeing a lot more infractions," he says.

CMPD pilots say they're seeing drones as high as 500 to 600 feet - in some cases a hundred feet above what's allowed.  

CMPD reports incidents to the FAA, and when possible tries to locate the drone operators. None of the recent run-ins were what you might call a near miss, and none appeared intentional, says Brown. Still, they're cause for concern.

"We just ask that everyone be cognizant, pay attention to where they are, and just to know the rules. Because we occupy that same airspace, a drone or small unmanned aircraft would be a detriment if it struck one of our helicopters," Brown says. 

Some encounters aren't accidental. A year ago, a CMPD helicopter had to swerve to avoid a drone during an early morning search for a suspect. Police later charged a Concord man who was found using a police scanner to follow the chase.  

A little over 20,000 drones in North Carolina are registered with the FAA. Brown urges drone users to download the FAA’s B4UFLY app that warns about flight restrictions wherever they are.

RELATED LINK

FAA page on unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), or drones, FAA.gov

State of North Carolina drone registration page (required for commercial and government users), at NCDOT.gov