Washington, D.C.-area police have investigated more than 20 illegal drone flights near the city in recent months, including above some of the most sensitive and secure locations in the region, according to Federal Aviation Administration records obtained by the News4 I-Team.
Those flights, all of which were unauthorized, include a drone spotted near a crowded FedEx Field before the Oct. 6 Monday Night Football game between the Washington Redskins and Seattle Seahawks. Prince George’s County police said stadium security staffers saw a man operating a drone outside the stadium in the minutes before the game’s kickoff. Police said they referred the case to the FAA for further review and possible charges.
The I-Team has learned U.S. Capitol Police investigated a similar incident on the Capitol grounds in late August. The person spotted with the drone – also known as “unmanned aircraft system” – was detained briefly.
In a recent incident at D.C.’s Freedom Plaza, U.S. Park Police pulled a man from a nearby tree. FAA records and police reports indicate the man’s drone crashed into the tree and became stuck. He’d climbed the tree to retrieve the drone.
The recent local incidents also include close calls with airplanes near Ronald Reagan National Airport, Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport and Dulles International Airport. In late summer, a pilot reported a drone passed within 400 feet of his Piper P28A airplane near Reagan National. A few weeks earlier, crews at Dulles were notified that a bronze-colored drone came within 100 feet of United Flight 967, just north of the airport grounds. A report from FAA administrators said Fairfax County’s Sheriff’s Department was notified.
Lee Moak, a longtime president of the Airline Pilots Association, said he’s confident the FAA is managing the growth in popularity of drone aircraft.
“This is a relatively new phenomenon,” Moak said. “We just have to make sure we’re treating it appropriately.”
None of the reports reviewed by the I-Team indicated a malicious or dangerous intent by the drone operators. In late autumn, police responded to an illegal drone flight near the Lincoln Memorial. According to the police incident report, the drone operator was a Russian native, who told officers he was unfamiliar with FAA rules banning drone flights inside D.C. city limits.
Adam Eidinger, a longtime D.C. activist who once ran afoul of the FAA for operating a drone over the city’s Adams Morgan community, said some of the FAA restrictions are unnecessary.
“I think we can have rules against flying these things near the White House or the Capitol,” Eidinger said. “But on private property, there's absolutely no harm in flying these things."