Lewes Parks and Recreation Commission say it's time for city officials to consider regulations on drone use.
Commissioner Pres Lee said he was walking through Canalfront Park recently when he heard a buzzing sound from above. Looking up, he discovered a drone.
"That's what gave me the idea," Lee said. "Why would the city limit it to parks though? Should it be a citywide ordinance?"
Councilman Dennis Reardon, who attended the meeting, said he expects city council to discuss the issue at its Monday, Nov. 14 meeting.
Lewes would not be the first Delmarva municipality to pass a law regulating drone use. In June, Bethany Beach Town Council approved an ordinance restricting use of unmanned aircraft in the town. In Bethany, recreational pilots are allowed to use drones directly over their property or property they have received permission to fly above. Commercial pilots are permitted to fly unmanned aircrafts within the town, but they must obtain permission from the town for each day's use.
Georgia Tugend of the Friends of Canalfront Park group said a drone in the park during a well-attended summer event raised safety concerns.
"It was clear there were two amateurs trying to fly a drone," she said. "It was very unsettling because we had the whole lawn full of young children, families. It really was quite jarring to have this drone flying over a crowd of people in the park."
But whether a municipality is allowed to enact a law restricting or prohibiting drone use within its borders may be in question. A preemption in Delaware code states only the state, not municipality or county, can regulate drones. The section also says Delaware code supersedes any existing law or ordinance of a county or municipality.
In September, Gov. Jack Markell signed House Bill 195, amending state code to prohibit people from operating an unmanned aircraft over any sporting event, concert, automobile race, festival or event at which more than 5,000 people are in attendance. The bill also prohibits use of drones over any critical infrastructure in the state of Delaware, including government buildings, power plants and public safety buildings, among others. The previously existing law also prohibits drone use over an incident where first responders are actively engaged in response.
ON DRONE USE
"Only the State may enact a law or take any other action to prohibit, restrict, or regulate the testing or operation of an unmanned aircraft systems in the State.
This section preempts the authority of a county or municipality to prohibit, restrict, or regulate the testing or operating of unmanned aircraft systems and supersedes any existing law or ordinance of a county or municipality that prohibits, restricts, or regulates the testing or operating of unmanned aircraft systems." - Delaware Code Title 11, Chapter 5, Section 1334,
The Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control prohibits use of drones in all state parks. However, an operator may request to fly and may be required to pay a fee to use a drone in a state park.
The state created an unmanned aircraft systems task force was created in December 2015. It is under the purview of the Department of Transportation and meets monthly to discuss issues related to unmanned aircrafts, such as promoting safety and economic development.
Towns and cities across the country have already taken steps to restrict use of unmanned aircrafts. Most municipalities have cited privacy and safety concerns for their regulations. In 2013, St. Bonifacius, Minn., became the first municipality in the country to pass a townwide ban of drone use up to 400 feet, citing privacy concerns.
In a memo released in December 2015, the Federal Aviation Administration addressed state and local regulation of unmanned aircrafts. It discourages state and local governments from passing laws, saying a "patchwork quilt" of differing restrictions could result in fractionalized control of navigable airspace.
"A navigable airspace free from inconsistent state and local restrictions is essential to the maintenance of a safe and sound air transportation system," the memo reads.
The memo suggests state and local official consult with the FAA prior to passing regulations.
It does state, however, that state and local governments are free to pass laws regarding voyeurism, using unmanned aircrafts for hunting or fishing and attaching firearms or other weapons to a drone.
Nationally, the federal government has prohibited use of drones in all national parks. Flying within five miles of an airport is also prohibited without the consent of air traffic control or the airport.
The FAA requires owners of drones weighing .55 to 55 pounds to register their unmanned aircrafts. People who intend to operate drones for commercial purposes are required to pass an aeronautical general knowledge exam, requiring pilots of unmanned aircrafts to learn and understand FAA regulations, weather patterns and concepts, aeronautical charts, airspace classes and regulations, drone operations and physiology. Pilots operating drones for recreational use are not required to pass an exam.
Commercial operators must follow certain rules set out by the FAA, including flying only during daylight hours, keeping the aircraft within sight and not flying over people; though waivers can be requested. Those operating a drone commercially include realtors, wedding photographers and news outlets, among others.