Paradise Valley Town Council moves forward with UAV ordinance proposal

A view of what many believe to be a “drone”aircraft within civilian airways as it does meet some functions of an unmanned aerial vehicle. (Independent Newsmedia/Terrance Thornton)

A view of what many believe to be a “drone”aircraft within civilian airways as it does meet some functions of an unmanned aerial vehicle. (Independent Newsmedia/Terrance Thornton)

The Town of Paradise Valley is expected over the next few weeks to host a public hearing on proposed rules of regulation for unmanned aerial vehicles meant to protect the privacy and safety of local residents.

No date has been set for that public hearing, officials say.

As unmanned aircraft armed with video cameras become more accessible and widespread, privacy and safety concerns are ushering in new regulation proposals from municipalities looking to allay public concerns over the new eye in the sky.

Andrew Miller

Andrew Miller

Paradise Valley Town Council held a work session Oct. 8 to be briefed by Town Attorney Andrew Miller on the progress of the development of a local drone ordinance. Town council members asked Mr. Miller to proceed with drafting an ordinance to be presented at a future public hearing.

The ordinance will be focused on protecting privacy concerns as more and more citizens worry about the remote-controlled quadcopters flying overhead — and watching their every move. The devices are used for a variety of purposes. Real estate agents use them to obtain aerial photographs of top-tier properties. In the public sector, unmanned aircraft are often used for surveillance purposes in municipalities such as Phoenix.

The proposed Paradise Valley drone ordinance will include three distinct sectors of regulation: The private realm, the commercial realm and the public realm, officials say.

“There are a lot of different safety issues and privacy issues,” said Mr. Miller during the Oct. 8 discussion. “So far nobody has adopted an ordinance. I know that Phoenix has had internal discussions.”

While the term “drone” has been embedded within media nomenclature the true definition of the word suggest a completely autonomous aircraft with programmable GPS waypoints, according to remote-controlled aircraft enthusiasts.

The regulation of UAVs

The proposed ordinance, which would be an addition to Town Code Article 10-12, includes these basic provisions:

  • Private property use — residents will be allowed to use an unmanned aerial vehicle up to 500 feet within his or her own property as long as the flight does not record or photograph people and activities in neighboring backyards.
  • Commercial use — commercial users must (1) register with the Paradise Valley Police Department; (2) provide identification for the aircraft to be used; (3) make an online notification of the date, time, locaton and contact information for the commercial user at the city’s website.
  • Emergency use — Emergency use, defined by the issuance of a warrant of code enforcement activities, will be allowed by a law enforcement agency in response to an emergency situation.

Mr. Miller discussed penalties for the proposed ordinance. A misdemeanor trespass charge warning is likely when the first violations occurs, followed by a fine. For a third offense the penalty could be a $2,500 fine and six months in jail.

“The goal is not revenue; the goal is awareness,” Mr. Miller pointed out to council. “We will be very open … we are trying to be very transparent.”

Toward the effort, Paradise Valley Town Council is likely to require a one-year review on any drone regulation ordinance passed, members say.

“There are educational issues first, then enforcement will come later,” Mr. Miller said of the nature of the enforcement actions to come. “I think eventually we will be seeing much more recreational use — the technology is getting better and better.”

Some quadcopter models such as the 350 QX2 manufactured by Blade have built-in GPS chips and altimeter gauges that allow the remote-controlled device to be programmable up to thousands of feet in the air.

While The Federal Aviation Administration has regulations that apply to the operation of all aircraft, whether manned or unmanned concrete provisions for national drone regulations remain uncrafted.

“The FAA is still in the process of propagating its regulations. They had a deadline last week that I believe they missed,” Mr. Miller said.

“Theirs’ are more concerns of drones interfering with aircraft or interfering with public safety. What we have in this ordinance is an effort to strike a balance.”

FAA officials say all commercial remote-controlled pilots ought to have authorization for what they are flying, Independent archives state.

The burden of privacy

Paradise Valley Town Council members expressed concerns over privacy and general safety at the Oct. 8 work session discussion.

“I am not worried about the commercial uses; those folks know how to drive these … it’s the 16-year-old who’s parent just bought them a drone with no training and it can be a real danger to public safety,” said Councilwoman Mary Hamway.

Councilwoman Hamway says a yearly review clause is essential with this kind of proposed regulation.

Mary Hamway

Mary Hamway

“You don’t need to be over my property,” she pointed out of privacy concerns. “You can just hover and see what is going on?”

Paradise Valley Vice Mayor Paul Dembow echoed both the sentiment of safety and privacy.

“I am rally uneasy on this,” he told town staff of concerns of enacting local legislation that cold be trumped by national law crafted by the FAA. “We don’t have the budget to fight the government overstep. I want to make sure we are not the first city to be at the legal table.”

Paradise Valley Councilwoman Maria Syms points out the local municipality may be at the forefront of precedent-setting legislation.

“Would you say that Paradise Valley is leading the charge in terms of regulating drones,” she asked of Mr. Miller. “Since the FAA has not come out with its plan yet, are you concerned that they did a permissible action that our ordinance my not find permissible?”

While Mr. Miller could not give any guarantees, he expressed confidence the local ordinance will not interfere with any potential national law coming down the pike. Mr. Miller has been working with UAV operators, both private and public, since last May to understand more clearly the issues at hand.

Paradise Valley Mayor Michael Collins lauded the efforts of Mr. Miller.

“I applaud your outreach efforts to the UAV community and allowing their participation,” he said. “I think the reliance on trespass law is correct and also appropriate to be linking back to existing law is prudent. We are using existing legal infrastructure to craft our ordinance. I think you have understood our intent.”

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