Use of Unmanned Aircraft Banned from National Park System.

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Date: July 18, 2014
Contact: Keith Jefferson, 870-365-2798
Contact: Caven Clark, 870-365-2790

National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis has issued a policy memorandum to ensurethat the use of unmanned aircraft is addressed by the NPS before a significant level of such use occurs within the National Park System. The policy memorandum directs each superintendent to use the authority under 36 CFR 1.5 to prohibit the launching, landing, or operation of unmanned aircraft (drones).This action applies to the launching, landing, and operation of unmanned aircraft on lands and waters administered by the NPS.

The policy memo does not modify any requirement imposed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on the use or operation of unmanned aircraft in the National Airspace System. The use of drones at Buffalo National River is inconsistent with other park uses such as backcountry and wilderness hiking and camping, or even brief day-use activities that may include hunting, fishing, and swimming. One of the core values of the river expressed by the public in the general management plan scoping meetings was the peaceful solitude of a river experience. While we foresee broad possibilities for beneficial use of drones for research purposes, perhaps in monitoring prescribed burns, forest health, and even feral hog populations, the unregulated use of drone aircraft are contrary to the fundamental qualities of the national river.

There has been dramatic growth throughout the United States in the numbers and use ofunmanned aircraft during recent years. As unmanned aircraft (commonly called drones) have become more affordable and easy to operate, they have begun to appear in national parks, and in many cases, their use has resulted in noise and nuisance complaints from park visitors, park visitor safety concerns, and one documented incident in which park wildlife were harassed.

The National Park Service embraces many activities in national parks because they enhance visitor experiences with the iconic natural, historic and cultural landscapes in our care. However, we have serious concerns about the negative impact that flying unmanned aircraft is having in parks, so we are prohibiting their use while we examine their impact on park resources. The primary goal is to ensure that we can protect park resources and ensure visitor safety while providing all visitors with a rich experience. 

Except for the limited existing use of model aircraft in some parks, unmanned aircraft is a new park use and affect park resources, staff, and visitors in ways that the National Park Service has yet to identify and analyze. It is National Park Service policy to not allow a new park use until a determination has been made that it will not result in unacceptable impacts on park resources and values,and staff and visitor safety.

All National Park Service units will ban the launching, landing, or operating unmanned aircraft from or on lands and waters within their unit. The National Park Service may use unmanned aircraft for administrative purposes when appropriate and approved by the Associate Director of Visitor and Resource Protection. These purposes may include search and rescue operations, fire operations, and scientific study. The memorandum does not affect the primary jurisdiction of the Federal Aviation Administration over the National Airspace System. This is an interim policy that will remain in place until the National Park Service develops a Service-wide regulation to address unmanned aircraft through the public rulemaking process.

Last updated: April 10, 2015

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