The hurricane Florence came with torrential rainfall and inundated vast swathes of land, drones were seen as part of disaster relief efforts as well as post storm relief efforts.
But Federal Aviation Administration issued warnings to pilots planning to fly in the areas severely hit by the natural calamity.
A special notice was issued by the governmental agency restricting drone operations supporting Hurricane Florence rehabilitation efforts to an elevation of 200 feet above the ground level while flying in the Carolinas. Normally, drones can be flown to an optimum altitude of 400 feet AGL.
All drone pilots were also advised to recheck NOTAMS before flying in and around areas affected by the hurricane. Most of the airports and air traffic control installations in the region had been shut down. Drone flights without requisite permission in or around the disaster hit area had the potential of disrupting relief efforts underway and also violated federal, state or local laws and ordinances and could potentially result in fine.
Hurricane Florence made landfall this month with sustained winds of 90mph and resulted in no less than 11 casualties according to figures released by the National Hurricane Center. The FAA had switched off its Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC) system the very same day for airports (Fayetteville, Florence, Wilmington and Jacksonville airports in North Carolina and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina) as they were situated in the storm’s path. LAANC is a new system that has been installed recently and is responsible for issuing real time airspace authorizations to pilots; thereby making it easier for drone enthusiasts to receive instant permission for flights in prohibited territories.
The FAA issued a statement that the LAANC was likely to be up and running in a month’s time in the areas hit by the hurricane.
Obviously, it is mandatory for all pilots to give way to manned airplanes at all times.
Nevertheless, drones played a great role in relief and rescue efforts in the aftermath of the great hurricane.
The former FAA Administrator, Michael Huerta, had remarked in the background of Hurricane Irma that had ravaged Florida in 2017 that the relief and rehabilitation efforts should be considered as a watershed in the evolution of drone usage in the country.
Drones were used by the Air National Guard then to conduct aerial surveys to analyze disaster hit areas swiftly and determine which ones needed immediate aid. Similarly, drones were flown by the US Customs and Border Protection from Corpus Christi to Florida to map areas in Key West, Miami and Jacksonville. In the surveys, geographic points on infrastructure such as power plants for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Insurance companies were assisted by Airbus Aerial to respond quickly to claims filed by homeowners by combining data from drones, manned airplanes and satellite data to give clearer overall picture of particular locations before and after the catastrophe.
Cell service was provided to Puerto Rico in the aftermath of the Hurricane Maria the same year.
Drone pilots are required to contact the FAA’s System Operations Support Center (SOSC) by emailing 9-ATOR-HQ-SOSC@faa.gov the information that is required to seek permission for access to airspace if they want to participate in relief and rescue efforts or fly in controlled airspace.