Miami-Dade County

Miami International Airport warns drones and spring break don’t mix

Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat from Florida, addresses a press conference Friday at Miami International Airport on the dangers of drones near flight paths. A drone rests in front of the lectern. He’s flanked by MIA director Emilio González and Miami-Dade Commissioner Rebeca Sosa.
Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat from Florida, addresses a press conference Friday at Miami International Airport on the dangers of drones near flight paths. A drone rests in front of the lectern. He’s flanked by MIA director Emilio González and Miami-Dade Commissioner Rebeca Sosa. dhanks@miamiherald.com

Ease up on the drone flying, bro.

A parade of high-ranking government officials on Friday offered a stern message for a new generation of Miami spring breakers: Be careful when flying your drones.

“No matter how much education you do, you always have to be worried about the kid… with a drone that doesn’t know,” Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., said at the Miami International Airport press conference. “And all of a sudden starts flying the drone in the path of an inbound or outbound aircraft.”

An MIA press release announced the morning media event under the headline: “Leaders Warn Against Unauthorized Drone Use During Spring Break.”

The message from Nelson and county officials was aimed at a broader audience of drone users who might not realize the danger of their remote-control aircraft crossing paths with an actual plane. But with spring break attracting millions of visitors and also idling hundreds of thousands of local students, airport officials see a particularly worrisome window for casual drone traffic.

“The expectation is people will bring their drones when they come down here to vacation,” said MIA director Emilio González. “What we want to do is get out in front of this.... We want people to know what the rules are before they get here. Because all it takes is one of these to cause a catastrophe.”

In October, Miami-Dade commissioners adopted a local ordinance prohibiting drone flights within a mile of the county’s five airports, including MIA, Opa-locka and Kendall-Tamiami. The new law took effect in January, and captured growing concern over drones that has both Washington and local governments (including the city of Miami) tackling the complications of civilians piloting devices large enough and high-flying enough to cause problems in the air.

“We need to make sure that the drones, they cannot play with aircraft,” said Miami-Dade Commissioner Rebeca Sosa, whose district includes the airport. “Because they are playing with the lives and the safety of the people who are visiting.”

Violations of the county drone ordinance bring a $500 fine — five times the $100 penalty for possession of marijuana and 10 times the amount first-time offenders can be charged for violating the county’s open-container laws for alcohol.

Federal rules require all operators of drones (technically, unmanned aircraft systems) to first register the devices with the Federal Aviation Administration. And Washington regulations already prohibit drone use beyond the county’s one-mile radius without permission. But the FAA has no means of enforcing the rules around airports, so the local ordinance gives municipal police the ability to write citations on the spot.

MIA spokesman Greg Chin said the airport recorded two drone sightings in 2015, including one while a jet was on approach to the runway.

Nelson, who is pushing federal legislation to install anti-drone technology at major airports, warned against treating drones as toys or harmless gizmos. “This is not monkey business,” he said. “This is serious business.”

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