The Dexter Planning Commission found out that they can’t do much to regulate use of drones in the city at their June meeting. City council has been considering regulating drones in Dexter since last March.
Steven Hanes, Supervisory Inspector and UAV Specialist for the Federal Aviation Authority, said the most council could do is ban the use of unmanned aerial vehicles from city property. However, the city could not regulate drone use on private property. Once a drone leaves the hands of the user and becomes airborne, it becomes a part of FAA jurisdiction.
“If something really bad is happening your best resource is local law enforcement,” Hanes said to the planning commission Monday, May 6.
Hanes said that using drones to harass or endanger someone could be dealt with just like if someone was using any other method to act irresponsibly. Hanes and his staff are tasked with administrative law. They are stationed at Willow Run Airport and would not be able to come in time before the drone operator simply left.
“Plus we’re severely understaffed at the moment,” Hanes added.
The FAA does intervene in situations where drone users are being unsafe or irresponsible with their vehicles, but only after a pattern is noticed.
Unmanned aircraft have exploded in popularity over the last few years. According to the Wall Street Journal, there are at least 181,000 drones registered in an article last January. Just how many drones there are has proven difficult to determine. But as the Journal points out, the actual sales numbers by manufacturers go much higher and drones can be home made.
In the civilian world, drones are used by either hobbyists or professionals. Drones are used more and more by photographers, to inspect dams and buildings, and by real estate firms.
Drones weighing more than a few pounds are considered aircraft; just like a helicopter or manned airplane. The FAA was given authority to regulate drones with an act of Congress in 2012.
“If they weigh more than half a pound to 55 pounds they’re supposed to register them. Not everybody has,” Hanes said.
Registered drones get a registration number. While this number isn’t very useful to identify a drone in the air, it does allow the FAA to find out who it belongs to if one is recovered. Regulation for hobbyists is less strict, however. Restrictions are much more stringent for law enforcement.
“They can do it but they have to go through the hoops just like any surveillance,” Hanes said.
If a drone user does use their aircraft irresponsibly the FAA can issue fines, but only if they are endangering someone else, or their property. Fines can go up to $1,000, according to Hanes.
Registration costs $5. According to the FAA, failing to register the drone can result in civil fees as high as $27,500.
“Criminal penalties include finds of up to $250,000 and/or imprisonment for up to three years,” The FAA’s FAQ page says.
More often, however, Hanes says he speaks to drone operators if they have been accused of using their UAV’s inappropriately. Civilian drone users are also supposed to notify airports if they are flying nearby.
When asked by Planning Commissioner James Smith if invasion of privacy counted as endangerment, Hanes said “No, That’s being addressed with state legislation.”