The cit of Raleigh, North Carolina – home to commercial drone leader, PrecisionHawk – is proposing a ban on recreational drones in all but 7 city parks.
The proposal has gotten a lot of press in the drone community. Not only will it severely restrict drone use in the vast majority of Raleigh’s public greenspace, but the city further restricts any recreational drones with cameras (the vast majority of recreational drones) to only 3 of the city’s 90 parks.
“The City of Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources Department (PRCR) recognize that operating an UAV presents as a popular recreational activity,” says the ordinance. “PRCR evaluated properties within the park system to determine which may be conducive to UAV flying. PRCR determined UAV flying would not be a compatible use for areas classified as “nature preserves,” “nature parks” or “wetland centers” or appropriate for lakes wholly owned, managed or leased by the City of Raleigh or PRCR.”
The idea of limiting drone use in certain areas in order to protect bird species or wetlands may make some sense. But it seems unlikely that 83 out of 90 parks meet this criteria, and recreational flyers say that the extreme limitations of the proposal – which defines not only a very short list of parks in which drones can be flown, but actually limits flight to very specific fields within the parks – don’t leave much for responsible operators.
The ordinance also specifies that the fields designated for use by drone pilots are not exclusive for drone pilots, and may be used by other patrons at the same time – which means a softball game or picnic could well be going on, making it impossible to fly legally. The fields may also be rented by park patrons for “exclusive use,” in which case drone operators who show up hoping to fly are out of luck.
PRCR says that the ban on camera drones in all but 3 parks is “out of respect for neighbor’s privacy.” Assistant Director Scott Payne told the Raleigh News Observer that privacy was a significant concern. “The Parks Committee during their deliberation considered privacy concerns for the surrounding neighbors. While one may have a reasonable expectation of being photographed while in a public park, there are concerns with UAV photographing someone on their private property from within the bounds of a public park.”
As the drone community struggles to limit state and local regulations that threaten to damage the industry, eyes are on Raleigh – a city marketing itself as a hub of innovation – to see how far they will go to ground drones in public spaces.