It’s a typical morning in the NAS Kingsville control tower when the radio crackles.
“Navy Kingsville Tower, Blazer 124, short final, we just avoided a drone off our port side at 300 feet,” came the call.
“Blazer 124, Tower, copy.”
The call initiates a series of notifications to the air station chain of command and base security – and an incident report sent to the Federal Aviation Administration.
“All because someone doesn’t follow the rules for operating a drone near an airport,” Lt. Scott Powell said.
As Air Traffic Control Facility Officer, Powell oversees the tower and radar operations.
“Drones flying near aircraft or airports are often chalked up to ‘it was done by accident,’ but they are not really accidents.
“Either the individual chose to ignore the rules for operating drones or they just did not take the time to learn them. More often than not, it is the latter.”
With the increased number of people flying drones, it is more important than ever that drone pilots know the FAA rules, Powell said.
The short version is, it is illegal to fly a drone within five miles of the air station without prior approval.
“What we do is inherently dangerous,” said Cmdr. Bryan “Hopps” Hopper, NAS Kingsville’s Air Operations Officer and a veteran naval aviator.
“We train to mitigate all kinds of risks - for instance, birds in South Texas are everywhere.
“We fly and train student pilots in an area that is prime migratory route. We accept that risk because it existed before the installation was established.
“However, someone flying a drone near or in our flight path, especially on final approach to the runway, is a newer threat.
“It’s extremely dangerous, illegal, and completely avoidable.”
The FAA Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) website, https://www.faa.gov/uas/, is where drone users, professional or recreational, should go to learn the rules to operate safely and legally.
Generally, you are free to fly your drone at or below 400 feet above the ground when in uncontrolled (Class G) airspace.
But you must obtain authorization before flying in controlled airspace (Class B, C, D, and E).
NAS Kingsville is Class D airspace that extends five miles around the airfield.
The FAA UAS site has links to airspace maps and the FAA Drone Zone, where users can register their drones.
A great resource is the FAA’s “B4UFLY” app, available for Android and iOS. It can tell you if you are in a “safe to fly” area and let you search other areas before going there to fly.
Glenn Jones, NAS Kingsville’s Community Plans Liaison Officer, works with the community to address all types of incompatible uses that occur around the air station.
“Most folks have no intention of causing concern to our pilots or to the air station,” he said.
“Once contacted, they usually state that they did not realize what they were doing was placing our aircraft at risk.
“Just reasoning it out, you can be a mile or two away, think you are well clear of NAS Kingsville, and the reality is that you are well within our airport traffic pattern.
“That’s why it’s essential that folks flying drones educate themselves.”
NAS Kingsville wants drone enthusiasts to get the information they need to fly their drones safely and legally before taking to the air.
All drones, unless operating under approval of the Air Traffic Control Facility Officer, must remain five miles from NAS Kingsville.
“It is a violation of federal law not to comply with FAA regulations,” Powell said.
“The FAA has been more aggressive in prosecuting offenders. However, as Glenn said, we want to give folks benefit of the doubt and correct the problem by educating them.
“I am the point of contact here at NAS Kingsville. I can be reached at 361-516-6124 or firstname.lastname@example.org.”