The U.S. Forest Service had hoped to use unmanned aircraft—better known as drones—in northern Idaho and Montana to help survey forest fires, but the federal agency has grounded its plans due to what it calls an impractical amount of red tape with the Federal Aviation Administration.
This morning's Missoulian reports that the USFS dropped its plans "because of clashes" with FAA rules.
“Getting FAA approval to fly one is a lengthy process,” Forest Service Northern Region spokesman Phil Sammon told the Missoulian. “It takes too long to make it practical for a two- or three-week occurrence.”
Sammon said FAA rules require a drone in U.S. airspace must be in visual range of its pilot at all times, meaning it would be very difficult to use over large wildfires with huge smoke columns.
Meanwhile Missoula law enforcement said that if citizens see drones flying over their neighborhoods, they should be assured that none of the unmanned aircraft belong to any agency.
"It's more than likely [that the amateur unmanned aircraft] are from people having a good time," Brian Culp, radio control expert at a Missoula hobby shop, told the Missoulian.