National Park Service: Your drones aren’t welcome here!


posted Monday, May 5, 2014 at 5:44 PM EDT


The latest salvo in the battle of the United States federal government versus public use of unmanned aerial vehicles has just been fired -- but for a change, it's not the Federal Aviation Administration pulling the trigger. Instead, it's the National Park Service that's entered the fray, making clear that it feels the use of drones (as the mainstream media insists on calling them) is illegal in national parks without a permit.

Citing the US Code of Federal Regulations, Title 36, Part 2.17 (a) (3), the NPS says in a press release issued last Friday that "the use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (Drones) are prohibited within park boundaries". The CFR bullet point cited, which falls under the heading Parks, Forests, and Public Property :: Resource Protection, Public Use and Recreation :: Aircraft and Air Delivery, prohibits:

"Delivering or retrieving a person or object by parachute, helicopter, or other airborne means, except in emergencies involving public safety or serious property loss, or pursuant to the terms and conditions of a permit."

In its press release, the National Park Service calls attention to one specific park -- Yosemite -- in particular, but it's worth noting that the code in question applies to national parks in general. And as has often been the case until now, the rule seems open to interpretation.


Just off the top of our head, we'd immediately question whether a radio-controlled multicopter or aircraft with a built-in camera is necessarily in violation of the rule, given that it's arguably neither delivering nor retrieving an object. You could make the argument that a device with an external camera is delivering an object, even if it's only to the same location from which it departed, but it's not so clear-cut when the cameras of some multicopters are integral to the design of the aircraft. (And indeed, in some cases the craft couldn't fly properly with the camera removed.) We're also wondering whether this rule can be applied if the craft takes off and lands outside the park, and for that matter, whether the presence of an emergency "involving public safety or serious property loss" frees the public up to use a drone within the confines of the park to record that emergency.

At the same time, though, we're big fans of the National Park System ourselves, and we can appreciate the fact that unmanned aerial vehicles are typically pretty noisy, and could prove quite alarming to the wildlife within the park. Seen in that context, it doesn't seem terribly unreasonable to expect that some sanctuary from drones should be provided -- but then, why disallow drones and yet allow cars and snowmobiles into a National Park? Heck, humans by themselves can be pretty noisy and damaging to the environment. It's all a question of where you draw the line, and once again, there's no obvious point at which it should be drawn.


What do you think? Is all this droning about drones much ado about nothing? Do you wish you could wave off the NPS by telling them "these aren't the drones you're looking for?" Sound off in the comments below.

(via Petapixel. All images sourced from Flickr and used under a Creative Commons CC BY 2.0 license, with cropping / resizing and tweaks to color/contrast. Glacier Point image courtesy of Dimitry B.; Valley view image courtesy of Boqiang Liao; Vernal Fall image courtesy of Joe Parks.)