Lewes officials scrap possible drone regs

Solicitor: State law prevents city from making rules
November 21, 2016

Lewes officials have scrapped plans to regulate drone use in the city. 

City Solicitor Glenn Mandalas said the state has made it clear that it is the authority on drones in Delaware. A preemption in state code says a county or municipal governmental body may not enact any laws that prohibit, restrict or regulate the use of unmanned aircrafts.

“Cities can continue to have regulations that are not specific to drones that someone could still get in trouble with for using a drone, like noise, nuisance, voyeurism,” said Mandalas.

To clarify, Councilwoman Bonnie Osler said if someone were to be assaulted with a drone, it would be covered under assault. 

“If it’s covered under existing law, sure, we could address it,” said Police Chief Tom Spell.

Philadelphia police used existing laws to charge a 20-year-old college student with reckless endangerment after he flew a drone over a Donald Trump protest Nov. 16. Police say the operator could have caused a major catastrophe when he flew the drone within a few feet of a police helicopter. The operator also failed to follow Federal Aviation Administration regulations by flying over a crowd and flying at night. 

Mandalas hinted that the state itself may not have the authority to regulate drone use in the future. The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2016, which is making its way through the federal government, may take law-making ability away from states.

“A lot of people don’t like that,” Mandalas said. “There are groups out there fighting against it because they think municipalities are uniquely qualified to regulate drones – a resort town may have different thoughts and ideas than a place like New York City.”

The city’s parks and recreation commission first addressed the use of drones in the city at its October meeting. No specific regulations were recommended, but the commission asked council to consider taking action. 

At the parks and rec meeting, Georgia Tugend of the Friends of Canalfront Park 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.”

Earlier this year, the Federal Aviation Administration required all owners of drones weighing .55 to 55 pounds to register their aircraft. The FAA also requires people who intend to operate drones for commercial purposes 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. Waivers to the regulations can be requested. Those operating a drone commercially include realtors, wedding photographers and news outlets, among others.

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