City Council Defers to Feds, Tabling Drone Ordinance

South Bend, Ind., Council President Tim Scott pulled his proposed ordinance aimed at regulating unmanned aerial vehicles, opting instead to see how recent Federal Aviation Administration rules play out.

by Jeff Parrott, South Bend Tribune / November 14, 2018
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(TNS) — A city common council member has grounded his bill to place new restrictions on drone hobbyists while he gauges the effects of a new federal law that could bring even more rules.

The proposed city ordinance, sponsored by council President Tim Scott, D-1st, seeks to protect people’s privacy from camera-equipped drones. Scott had said a woman told him she had seen a drone hovering outside her window, an account he called “real creepy.”

The measure would have come up for a public hearing in November, but Scott decided to table it because of drone-related rules contained in a new federal law signed by President Donald Trump Oct. 5, reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration through 2023.

“We just want to wait and see what the new regulations mean,” Scott said.

The law leaves it up to the FAA to determine when the new rules for hobbyists will take effect, which will depend on how long it takes the agency to develop regulations.

Although the city bill only would have affected recreational drone pilots, Aaron Yoder, whose South Bend-based business Indiana Aerials sells drone photography services, said he was relieved that Scott has halted it for now. Yoder said everything it prohibited, such as flying over a person’s home and capturing images of people or property below, was already covered by state and federal laws. It also could have stoked unnecessary fear of drones, perhaps interrupting his work if people confused his drones for those flown by hobbyists, Yoder said.

The new federal law lays the groundwork for much stricter regulations for hobbyists, such as requiring them to pass air safety knowledge tests in order to be legally permitted to fly drones.

“It’s been kind of unfair for us because a hobbyist has a much easier time to fly their drone in controlled airspace than a commercial operator, who has to jump through a bunch of hoops,” Yoder said, noting hobbyists can sometimes sell their pictures for half the price of a commercial firm because they don’t have its overhead costs. “Hopefully it will lead to more enforcement for those guys, to get busted and not be allowed to do it.”

The Academy of Model Aeronautics, a Washington-based member association of drone hobbyist clubs and individuals, had lobbied against several of the changes, including:

Drones flown recreationally must stay below 400 feet in rural areas, a cap that already had applied to urban and suburban areas.

State and federal regulations might prohibit youths from taking the permit tests.

At the same time, the group supports a change doing away with the requirement that hobbyists must notify the FAA before flying within 5 miles of an airport.

The new law also will broadly affect commercial drones, tasking the FAA to develop an air-traffic management system to allow safe delivery of products, such as services under development by Amazon. It will require drone manufacturers to meet new standards, such as equipping drones with tags that allow them to be identified from ground technology. And it will pave the way for letting law enforcement shoot down drones that are being used to commit crimes.

“I have a good feeling,” Yoder said. “It’s a very robust bill that should address all current concerns about drones.”

©2018 the South Bend Tribune (South Bend, Ind.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.