County Legislature to explore possible regulations on aerial drone use

BY MICHAEL RICONDA

NEW CITY – A draft law proposed by County Legislator Jay Hood could add additional county restrictions on top of pre-existing federal regulations which govern the use of unmanned aerial drones.

The Legislature plans to gather input to craft a local law which would limit the use of camera drones to private property and designated public spaces such as parks. The new law could also restrict the use of drones within 50 feet of certain designated locations where they might pose a safety hazard or pose a potential threat to residents’ right to privacy.

According to Hood, the objective of the law is to introduce a level of personal control over aircraft on both private and public property. In effect, the consent of property-owners would likely be required for drone use.

“We took it a step forward to protect peoples’ privacy,” Hood explained. “You need permission, basically, I think that’s very fair”

Hood explained the draft law is still subject to change and could possibly include less stringent measures such as restrictions aimed more toward drone-mounted camera. However, he emphasized the cameras are only one dimension of the larger question of when and where it is appropriate to fly the unmanned aircraft.

“I would also see it as a safety issue flying these things around homes and kids,” Hood stressed.“I don’t think this is just the camera issue.”

The proposal emerged partly from discussions between Hood and County Sheriff Louis Falco, who raised the issue of security and privacy at county government buildings, especially at the Rockland County Jail.

In response to recent cases of drones in other states being used to drop contraband into prison yards, Falco specifically requested a ban on drone use over the Sheriff’s Department complex or the jail. Falco also agreed on limitations on camera drones which could be used to infringe on privacy for criminal purposes.

“I don’t want people using these cameras as peeping toms or watching children in schools or anything,” Falco stated.

Though known primarily as military aircraft, commercially-available drones have exploded in popularity in recent years among hobbyists and business entrepreneurs. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has estimated the industry could pull in $90 billion within a decade. The Consumer Electronics Association forecasted 250,000 in global sales in 2014 alone for a total of $84 million in revenue.

To address emerging safety concerns, the FAA endorsed a set of Congressional guidelines in 2012 for recreational drone users. These guidelines include the maintenance of a 400 foot altitude or less, keeping the drone in sight at all times, and avoidance of airports, crowds of unprotected people and sensitive infrastructure such as utility buildings, heavily-trafficked roads and government and law enforcement buildings.

In addition, the FAA has prohibited commercial use of drones for tasks such as package deliveries, a setback for businesses like Amazon which have explored the possibility of unmanned delivery services. Use of drones for other commercial purposes such as commercial photography has not been subject to enforcement, though they remain in a legal grey area.

More federal changes appear to be on the horizon. On February 15, the FAA released a new proposed framework for drone use which includes separate registration and licensing standards from manned aircraft and more detailed restrictions on speed and flight over populated areas. Retail deliveries remain prohibited.

“We want to maintain today’s outstanding level of aviation safety without placing an undue regulatory burden on an emerging industry,” FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said.