Double-Edged Sword: Drone Delivery Helps Clinic, but Drones Prevent Firefighting

July 21, 2015  - By
Image: GPS World


In a striking contrast, the positive and negative sides of unmanned aerial vehicles were highlighted in a single day, July 17. First, in a government-approved demonstration, drones were used to deliver prescription medicine to patients at a temporary health clinic in rural Virginia, reports the Wall Street JournalThe event, reported previously by GPS World, aimed to show how UAVs can alleviate the problem of health-care access while creating economic opportunity for communities.

A manned aircraft carried the packages most of the way, and the flight plan originally called for the drone to make six round trips to carry a total of 10 pounds. But after two successful deliveries, officials decided to send the rest of the payload in one flight.

In stark contrast to that beneficial use of drones, efforts by firefighters to battle a fierce wildfire in California on July 17 were hampered by hobbyists flying consumer drones to capture video of the flames. Planes attempting to deliver water drops found their flights delayed or blocked by the presence of the drones, with private drones flying over the wildfire grounding firefighting aircraft for almost half an hour.

In the past month, drones have gotten in the way of firefighters in San Bernadino County, the Plumas National Forest and, most recently, Interstate 15, which connects Los Angeles and Las Vegas, reports PBS.

State lawmakers in California are drafting a bill that would impose heavy fines and potential jail time on anyone whose personal drone interferes with firefighting efforts.

GPS World professional OEM editor Tony Murfin discusses regulatory issues for both commercial and hobby drone use in his July newsletter column, New Frontiers in Unmanned Flight — Your Questions Answered.



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5 Comments on "Double-Edged Sword: Drone Delivery Helps Clinic, but Drones Prevent Firefighting"

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  1. William K. says:

    Unfortunately this makes no mention of how the drones were blocking the firefighting drones, thus providing no useful information. My guess is that it may have been the control signals interfering, but no hint is provided. It would be simple to use a more powerful control signal transmitter for the firefighting drones or possibly to change frequency and avoid the problem. another option would be to have a police sharpshooter shoot down the interfering aircraft, but that would cause a fuss in California, I am sure.

    • JJM says:

      I trust that you are aware of the hazards birds create to aircraft and efforts to keep birds away from airports. If body and feathers can penetrate a windscreen what can metal and plastic do?

      • William K. says:

        The article was talking about drones, not fast moving aircraft. If it had been my call I would have had a sharpshooter take out the offending drones, and that would have been the end of it. But we are talking about a state where at least half of the population has been out i the sun so long that it has altered how they think, and so no wonder there was a problem. These are the same folks that move right back into the same place, having a new house built where the last one burned down from the wildfire, and they never learn to move away.

  2. William K. says:

    Actually, the situation sounds similar to the traffic jams caused by gawkers slowing to stare at an accident on the freeway. But an “anti-gawking” law would probably be excessive.

  3. Noel N says:

    The concern the pilots had, and half hour delay, is understandable since any mechanical failure while flying can become immediate and catastrophic. A breakdown on the freeway is not comparable, you just stop.
    Since the control frequencies utilized are known maybe the police and firefighting community should be allowed
    to ‘jam’ the immediate area.
    Better a drone ‘dropped’ than anyone started trying to shot it out of the sky. But even that can be risky.