The owner of an aerial photography business was sentenced to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine after a drone he was operating crashed into people during a 2015 parade and knocked one woman unconscious. Paul Skinner, 38, was found guilty of reckless endangerment by Judge Willie Gregory of the Seattle Municipal Court. Gregory acknowledged that the collision was accidental, not intentional, but felt a punishment was in order, as Skinner had “engaged in conduct that put people in danger of being injured.”
While there have been a number of arrests and fines related to drone crashes in the US over the last few years, this may be the first time the punishment for a pilot included jail time. Arthur Holland Michael, co-director of the Center for the Study of the Drone said he had never heard of anyone receiving jail time before. Tom McMahon, vice president of Advocacy and Public Affairs at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, was also unable to recall any precedent.
Part of the reason for this is that there are few laws on the book directly governing drone flight. That is changing rapidly. Lawmakers in Washington, where Skinner was sentenced, are looking into drafting new regulations specifically aimed at drones. Most drone industry trade groups are opposed to these measures, arguing that local laws would create a mess by overlapping and contradicting rules already put in place by the Federal Aviation Administration.
Legislation like the bill being considered in Washington “have the potential to create a complicated patchwork of laws that will erode, rather than enhance, aviation safety,” wrote Brian P. Wynne, President of the AUVSI, in a letter quoted by The News Tribune. “If enacted, the bill would create inconsistencies with federal law, stifle innovation, and jeopardize current and future jobs in the growing unmanned systems sector in the state.”