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City Council moves to ban public use of drones

The legislation would severely restrict use of unmanned aerial vehicles in the City.
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A tech journalist tries out aParrot MinidroneGetty Images

Eyes in the skies look to be shot down if a bill introduced by City Councilman Paul Vallne, regulating the public use of drones in New York City is approved.

In an effort to combat the heightened public use of unmanned aerial vehicles due to increasingly accessible prices, Vallone and nine Council Members proposed a bill Wednesday that says individuals can’t operate drones for surveillance purposes or with the intent to cause harm to persons or property.

"Drone technology is rapidly advancing and quickly becoming more available and affordable," Vallone said in a statement. "New York City can regulate drones now without waiting for the FAA to update federal regulations."

The bill does not affect drones operated by City agencies. However, if passed, private citizens who break the law could face punishments ranging from misdemeanor charges to $1,000 fines to one year in prison. Brands could avoid such punishments if federal law allows them to use commercial drones.

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“Federal laws and FAA regulations would ultimately preempt our City legislation,” said Vallone’s Director of Communications Lionel Morales. “Thus if Amazon, for example, were to be given approval to fly commercial drones then that approval would supersede our bill.”

Vallone's bill also says drones cannot be operated within five miles of any airport, a response to three recent near-collisions at JFK.

"It’s clear that commercial drone use has crossed over from unregulated to potentially deadly," Senator Chuck Schumer said of the incidents in November.

Other provisions in the bill include a crackdown on drone use at night, flying at an altitude greater than 400 feet above ground level and within a quarter mile of a hospital, house of worship or school.

New York City Drone User Group, an organization of close to a thousand amateur and professional drone users, thinks the bill's provisions are largely fair, though some points are "ham-handed" and "over-reactive." The group cites the ban of drone use at schools as especially problematic, saying it "squelches the potential for learning and hamstrings certain regions' efforts to present this technology as a means of learning."

"We're putting tools in the hands of young minds," NYCDUG spokesman Steve Cohen told Metro. Cohen, a photographer and filmmaker, said his group aims to encourage the growth and positive use of drone technology while educating members in safe and responsible piloting.

"Nobody is really looking to do any kind of security or espionage or spying," Cohen said. "It's really about the learning."

In an effort to change Vallone's mind regarding drone restrictions, Cohen said he hopes to invite the Councilman and his peers to a NYCDUG meet-up, where he can introduce them to real locals using drone technology in positive ways.

"We can show him the devices that we're using," Cohen said. "My experience is that every time we do some sort of a meet-and-greet, people come away with a very different impression of what these drones are."

 
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