Questions remain after drone collides with helicopter on Kauai
HONOLULU - As a Blue Hawaiian Helicopter flew along the Na Pali coast Friday afternoon, a white drone hit the helicopter mid-flight.
"You absolutely have to give the right of way to a manned aircraft. This is an FAA rule and it's something you have to do," said Alexey Volobuev.
Volobuev is a Drone Pilot who teaches safety classes at Hawaii Drone Academy and Computational Thinkers.
"Unfortunately people may buy a drone without really realizing the responsibilities they're also acquiring by acquiring a drone," said Volobuev.
Officials at the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) said it is illegal for drones to fly at state parks.
State statutes also outline severe penalties for those who operate drones illegally:
"Chapter 184 Hawaii Revised Statutes:
§184-5 Rules and enforcement; penalty. (b) Except as provided in subsection (c), any person violating this chapter, any rule adopted pursuant thereto, or the terms and conditions of any permit issued thereunder, in addition to any other penalties, shall be guilty of a petty misdemeanor and shall be fined not less than:
(1) $100 for a first offense;
(2) $200 for a second offense; and
(3) $500 for a third or subsequent offense.
§184-5.5 General administrative penalties. (a) Except as otherwise provided by law, the board or its authorized representative by proper delegation may set, charge, and collect administrative fines to recover administrative fees and costs as documented by receipts or affidavits, including attorney's fees and costs; or bring legal action to recover administrative fines, fees, and costs, including attorney's fees and costs; or payment for damages or for the cost to correct damages resulting from a violation of this chapter, any rule adopted, or permit issued thereunder.
(b) The administrative fines shall be as follows:
(1) For a first violation, a fine of not more than $2,500;
(2) For a second violation within five years of a previous violation, a fine of not more than $5,000; and
(3) For a third or subsequent violation within five years of the last violation, by a fine of not more than $10,000."
Despite the penalties, DLNR officials said catching a drone user operating a device illegally is not easy.
"The likelihood of an enforcement officer or an official with state parks being where they are is very, very low, so enforcement is a tremendous challenge," said Alan Carpenter, Assistant Administrator for DLNR's Division of State Parks.
Many drone users are willing to hike for miles, to capture a view from above.
"A drone can essentially provide the ultimate selfie, and so that's what people are using them for to capture pictures of themselves in more and more extreme locations," said Carpenter.
With more drones taking to the skies, Rep. Angus McKelvey (D- Lahaina) introduced legislation to form a drone task force through the Lieutenant Governor's Office.
"A permanent working group would mirror what other states have done, as far as having all the stakeholders together constantly making recommendations and interfacing with the federal government," said McKelvey.
McKelvey said it's still unclear who is supposed enforce the rules for drone use.
"We don't know, I mean, is it the police department? Do we have the same issues as we do in the maritime environment, where if you're beyond the high tide mark, it's the state?" said McKelvey.
Despite questions and confusion, one thing stakeholders know for sure is drones are here to stay.
"We just have to learn how to coexist in the same airspace safely," said Volobuev.
McKelvey's bill did not make deadline to pass first reading, but he said he plans to re-introduce the measure in the future.