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Saluda to enforce state laws for drones

SALUDA – After researching the possibility of enacting its own ordinance to regulate the use of unmanned aircrafts, commonly known as drones, Saluda officials decided to enforce state laws that are already on the books.

 

Saluda City Council met Aug. 14 and heard from city attorney Jana Berg regarding Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and N.C. Department of Transportation (DOT) laws.

 

Saluda began discussing the need for regulations following this year’s Coon Dog Day festival, held in July. During the festival parade, there were four drones flying over the parade and crowds, and Saluda commissioners expressed concern that if any had collided, people could have been seriously injured.

 

Berg said drones are an unmanned aircraft because the term “drone” is technically a military aircraft.

 

She said the FAA regulates air space and training for unmanned aircraft operators, so the city is fairly limited in what it can and cannot do.

 

She said she has seen proposed ordinances in larger cities, such as Raleigh, where people are allowed to use them, launching them from parks, for example. There are regulations with respect to not having cameras so people can’t practice voyeurism in the park area, according to Berg.

 

Berg also said there are regulations preventing people from harassing people or wildlife, including prohibitions against using unmanned aircraft to hunt animals. Most of the proposed city ordinances Berg found, she said, closely follow what is on the books already for state and federal laws.

 

Berg said the state of North Carolina has enacted some laws that prohibit surveillance, regulate against unmanned aircraft on private property without consent of the owner, and regulate against photographing someone without their consent. There are exceptions for law enforcement.

 

Other regulations include that someone cannot launch an unmanned aircraft from a state property without consent.

 

Berg said the city could make the laws into local ordinances so people are more familiar with what they can and can’t do, or, the city could educate the public and have local law enforcement enforce the current state laws.

 

Berg also said drones flying over the Coon Dog Day event downtown would be in violation of FAA regulations. The city can also ticket people who have violated FAA rules.

 

Commissioner Mark Oxtoby said the people flying the drones were probably not aware of the rules, just like the city wasn’t.

 

Berg said a new law states that someone must have training in order to operate drones of certain sizes, and further specialized training is required to operate an unmanned aircraft for commercial or government purposes.

 

City manager Jonathan Cannon clarified that currently the city’s police officers can take action based on North Carolina law.

 

Berg agreed and said the city’s police officers can cite people against state law.

Commissioner Carolyn Ashburn said she knows a photographer who sent a drone down Ozone Drive to show Saluda.

 

Berg said the operator would need permission to photograph the property.

For instance, said Berg, if someone wanted to get footage of Pearson’s Falls the operator would have to get permission from Pearson’s Falls as well as any hikers included in the footage.

 

Berg said if someone is annoying people with a drone or operating one in an unsafe manner, “I think our police officers have the tools they need already to write citations.”

 

Commissioner Stan Walker said he thinks the city should reference the state law and that way the city doesn’t have to keep up with all the updates in the law.

 

Berg said she thinks the city has the tools its needs and perhaps the city should educate people on what the rules are and let officers use their discretion.

 

Commissioners agreed to place in the meeting minutes that the city wants to use DOT regulations and also discussed placing the laws on the city’s website for public education.