County considering model drone regulations

Alex Doty • Dec 2, 2015 at 1:00 PM

Communities in Ottawa County could soon have an item in their tool chest to help regulate drone aircraft.

The county’s Planning Commission is working on a model drone ordinance that, if approved, could be used by local communities when they create drone aircraft restrictions.

“We don’t know exactly how it will end up, but we did request feedback from planners on staff,” County Planning Director Mark Knudsen said. “I would imagine this is going to go through several iterations over the next several months.”

The Consumer Technology Association estimates that 700,000 drones will be sold in the U.S. this year, including 400,000 in the last quarter, The Associated Press reported.

“It’s so easy to purchase a $50 drone off of the shelf that includes a camera,” Knudsen said.

With the ease of purchase and the possibility of more drones taking flight, there are some concerns about privacy and nuisance issues, officials say.

“There’s a lot of implications for the privacy in your yard and your house,” Knudsen said. “We’ve had anecdotal evidence of drones being flown up to neighbors’ houses with cameras on them.”

Knudsen said he and his staff haven’t found any other counties that have created a model ordinance, but did note that communities in California and in larger cities have created drone-regulating ordinances.

According to Knudsen, items being considered for a possible model ordinance include: permits, registration, insurance requirements, size of drones to be regulated, noise and nuisance, buffer zones, surveillance, weather, weapons, use under the influence of alcohol or drugs, time of day, and possible penalties.

The state is also considering measures to regulate the use of drone aircraft.

House Bill 2015-4868 regarding drones is currently being contemplated by the Michigan Legislature,” Grand Haven Public Safety Director Jeff Hawke said.

The proposal amends the state Aeronautics Code to prohibit and provide penalties for certain drone conduct. Highlights include restrictions on flying a drone in a manner that interferes with a public safety operation, flying a drone in a manner that interferes with the provision of services by a public utility, and flying a drone for the purpose of committing an act that is punishable as a felony or misdemeanor under state law.

Violations would be a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment for up to a year and/or a fine of up to $1,000.

Drones are currently under the purview of the Federal Aviation Administration, Hawke said.

“If we were to receive information or a complaint regarding invasion of privacy, we would investigate and coordinate with our local FAA representative,” Hawke said.

In Grand Haven, most drone flights are conducted by private companies providing photography services for other businesses, or are at or around the pier, capturing photos and video of Lake Michigan and the lighthouses, noted Hawke.

“We've had very few complaints regarding drones, but the issue is on our radar,” Hawke said. “If complaints or problems increase, we would make a recommendation to City Council regarding an ordinance change.”

Hawke added that, locally, Ferrysburg has recently regulated drone use.

The feds are also considering new regulations over drone use. An FAA aviation industry task force has recommended that operators be required to register drones weighing as little as a half-pound, a threshold that could include some remote-controlled toys, reports the AP.

The FAA, which convened a 25-member task force on drone registration, has said it wants to avoid requiring the registration of toys. But the consensus of the task force is that the weight threshold that triggers registration should be set at 250 grams or above, which is about a half-pound, said those familiar with its deliberations.

The threshold is based on the potential impact a drone that size would have if it fell from the sky and struck a person, or if it collided with a helicopter or plane, the FAA says.

The registration requirement would apply to drone operators rather than individual drones to avoid requiring operators who own multiple drones to register more than once. The operator would receive a single registration number, which would then be affixed to the body of each drone.

People who already own drones weighing more than a half-pound would have to register them, and registration could be done through an FAA website, where an operator can provide his or her name, address, phone number and other contact information, and receive a registration number.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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