Updated March 3,2015: al Jazeera reporter Tristan Redman, who was arrested in connection with the drone flights and plead guilty, has been fined €1,000 and his drone has been confiscated by Parisian court. (source: The Guardian)
In a city already jarred by last month’s terrorist attack at the headquarters of French magazine Charlie Hebdo, the sighting of drones over Paris for two nights last week has led to the arrests of three Al-Jazeera journalists on charges of unauthorized piloting of a UAV after the trio tried to report the flights by using a drone.
Ironically, the journalists claim their flight was an attempt to film a news story about earlier drone flights over two nights around Paris landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower, in addition to the U.S. Embassy. Witnesses reported at least five drones wafting over Parisian skies and police have not learned the identities of those pilots as of Friday. Described as “small, non-military drones,” the UAVs apparently inspired the Al-Jazeera reporters to launch their own drone to cover the story.
The Verge adds that “it’s unclear whether the drones were flown as a prank, a harmless flyover, or part of a coordinated or sinister operation.”
Drone operators must obtain a license before flying over Paris and night flights are banned. The journalists could face up to one year in prison and an $85,000 fine. Regulations state that no aircraft may fly lower than 19,700 feet over the City of Lights without permission.
A report by the BBC points out that drone flights have caused no small amount of concern by French officials.
“In October, a 24-year-old Israeli tourist was fined €400 (£293) and spent a night in jail after flying a drone over the city’s historic Hotel Dieu hospital and a police station. Unidentified drones have been spotted across the country in the past year, most recently over the presidential palace and a bay in Brittany that houses nuclear submarines, as well as over nuclear power plants.”
Also in October, France’s Ministry of the Interior launched an investigation after drones were sighted flying over seven of the nation’s 58 nuclear reactors. The identities of the pilot or pilots remain unknown, although investigators suspect environmental activist group Greenpeace due to the organization’s previous efforts to film the reactors via drone to investigate safety concerns.
Despite the growing unrest over UAVs, French officials seem to be taking the Paris sightings in stride. “There’s no need to worry, but we should be vigilant,” French spokesperson Stephane Le Foll said. “It’s a subject being taken very seriously.”
The intersection of drone-flight freedom and a perceived need to secure government facilities is likely to continue to create heightened tensions. Last month, a National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency worker crashed a DJI Phantom onto the White House Lawn and later admitted he “had been drinking.”
Meanwhile this year looks to be very strong for drone sales, which almost guarantees more incidents. The Consumer Electronics Association says 2015 drone sales will increase 49 percent with 341,000 units sold over 2014.
Jason is a longstanding contributor to DroneLife with an avid interest in all things tech. He focuses on anti-drone technologies and the public safety sector; police, fire, and search and rescue.
Beginning his career as a journalist in 1996, Jason has since written and edited thousands of engaging news articles, blog posts, press releases and online content.
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