Calling themselves “one of the top drone cities” in the nation based on the number of FAA exemptions they hold, and congratulating themselves on being the first big city to create “intelligent” regulations, the Chicago City Council’s Aviation Committee would appear to have made Chicago a “no drone zone” for most small operators.
Citing the potential for drones to be used by terrorists to carry weapons, the co-sponsor of the legislation Ald. Edward Burke (14th ward) played to the fears of the crowd. “I don’t know what the ability is for these devices to carry a payload, but it would seem that the potential for danger is unlimited,” he said, saying that while he can’t stop terrorists from using drones for “evil purpose” he hopes that the community will be more aware of drone activity and call police to report any they see.
While the City Council had invited drone operators to demonstrate their drones for councillors as part of the hearing, but the drone operators refused. Colin Hinkle, owner of Soaring Badger Productions, declined to fly indoors, saying: “That sounds like the YouTube moment of the week.”
Soaring Badger Productions holds an FAA 333 Exemption, and supported the legislation to prevent rogue operators from entering the commercial market. “…I have noticed in the past several months an increase in rogue commercial operators in Chicago,” Hinkle said. “People that go out and buy a drone online and they start to try to make money immediately off of it. They don’t get an [FAA] exemption. They don’t get insurance. They just use it and make a little money.”
The original proposed ordinance that would have required operators to go through an onerous registration process and carry heavy insurance, but both of these requirements were omitted from the ordinance approved, in view of the FAA’s own plans for a drone registry.
Still, the restrictions passed are heavy. Operators may not fly within 5 miles of the city’s two airports; outside of the operator’s line of site, higher than 400 feet, during bad weather (in the windy city, that eliminates flight for six months of the year) or between dusk and dawn.
And drone activities would seem to be limited to your own backyard (assuming you do not live within 5 miles of an airport) as the ordinance states that an operator may not fly over any unconsenting person or over any “property the operator does not own.”
The law also states that drones may not be equipped with a firearm or other weapon, cause “harm to persons or property” or be used for the “purpose of conducting surveillance unless expressly permitted by law.”
Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
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