As drone reports continue to roll into law enforcement agencies, some area officials are reporting that there have not been any issues.
One of the most common theories circulating on social media has been that the drones spotted in western Nebraska are connected to F.E. Warren Air Force base. Theories have been that Air Force personnel are monitoring missile silos.
“We can confirm that the drones are not ours, nor are they affiliated in any way with the United States Air Force,” 2nd Lt. Jon Carkhuff, the chief of media operations told the Star-Herald Thursday.
Carkhuff told the Star-Herald he couldn’t talk about the specific number of active missile silos in the area of western Nebraska, eastern Wyoming and northern Colorado. F.E. Warren AFB does conduct counter-UAS (Unmanned Aircraft System) training within the confines of its instalation, he said, and information has been provided to the FAA, FBI and other federal agencies and state and local authorities investigating the drones.
“The drones have posed no threat to our facilities. We can confirm that for sure,” Carkhuff said.
There have also been reports circulating on social media of aircraft pilots who have been hampered by drones. Western Nebraska Regional Airport has not received any reports from pilots of issues caused by drones, Airport director Raul Ayala said.
Ayala says he has not personally seen any drones at the Scottsbluff airport, though some of its neighboring residents have reported that they have seen drones flying within three to five miles of the airport, which is restricted airspace. Commercial flights at the airport generally are leaving at 6 a.m. and arriving at 9 to 9:30 p.m., about the time that most drone reports have been circulating in the Scottsbluff-Gering area.
However, he said, none of the commercial pilots — from the air line to air ambulance services — have reported any problems.
“I haven’t had any complaints from pilots of drones interfering with traffic,” he said. “If we were having issues like that, it would raise an alarm for me.”
The Star-Herald inquired with a commercial drone pilot who has flown in the area and information on drone operations is also available on the FAA website. Some common misconceptions have been that hobby and commercial drone pilots operate under the same set of rules. That is not true, though both will have to follow some of the same rules. Essentially, it is similar to requirements for operating a vehicle or a plane. A person operating a drone for commercial usage would be required to have a license issued by the FAA and more regulations than those of a person flying a drone as a hobby. Rules for recreational drone flying — at or below 400 feet — in airspace that is not manned by the FAA are also listed on the FAA website.
Rules regarding flying drones at night or in restricted airspace, such as within the five-mile jurisdiction of an airport or in populated areas, are also waiverable. A waiver is not difficult to obtain from the FAA, with an app available to provide nearly real-time access to submit for a waiver. The FAA provides documentation of waivers on its website, with a variety of individuals from photographers to law enforcement shown to apply for and be granted waivers.
Drones themselves can range from simple to complex. Most drones will have software that will warn someone, based on geofencing, that they are flying in areas that are restricted. Not all will drones will shutdown or returned to its home base after being flown in restricted air space, such as at an airport, and waivers for both recreational and commercial drone flyers are also able to be obtained.
All drone pilots are required to report any accidents that have occurred with a drone on the FAA website, according to information listed on the website.
According to a Lincoln Journal-Star story, more than 250 reports about drone sightings have been made to the Nebraska State Patrol via its Nebraska Information Analysis Center. However, most of the reports have included single sightings and could be someone mistaking a plane for a drone or just a hobby drone, according to Nebraska State Patrol spokesman Cody Thomas.