The City of Orlando, Fla., has approved a drone ordinance that many industry stakeholders are worried could hinder the unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) sector.
As described in the text of the new ordinance, the city says it is aiming to “promote hobbyist and commercial use of unmanned aircraft” while still “ balancing the paramount need to protect the well-being, tranquility and privacy of its citizens.”
According to the ordinance, a UAS (including model aircraft) cannot be launched, landed or operated at or near city property: 500 feet of a venue, outdoor public assembly, event with more than 1,000 people, and county/municipal detention facility. The ordinance describes a “venue” as a “building or structure designated as a venue by the executive director of Orlando Venues or the city council” – e.g., the Mennello Museum of American Art and the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts.
In addition, drones cannot be launched/landed/operated 500 feet of both public and private schools, unless the school has given permission. The ordinance also applies to 500 feet from an “enclosed building owned or operated by the City of Orlando” – e.g., the police headquarters and the city call – and 500 feet from a park, unless a park official has given consent for model aircraft in certain areas.
However, if unmanned aircraft operators do want to fly in any of these areas, they must obtain a permit, the ordinance adds. And, according to Orlando Weekly, they’ll have to cough up either $20 per flight or $150 per year.
The ordinance also forbids weapons (e.g., firearms or explosives) from being equipped to a UAS and establishes rules for what to do in the case of a crash, including staying at the scene and providing identifying information.
According to Mike Winn, co-founder and CEO of DroneDeploy, these types of “city-by-city” rules “set a bad precedent because they generate confusion among remote pilots, law enforcement and the public about what drone activities are and aren’t allowed.”
In addition, he explains in a statement, these ordinances “make it harder for operators using drones for legitimate commercial purposes to keep track of regulations and maintain compliance.”
“By comparison, nationwide regulations from the FAA help provide regulatory clarity and allow for efficient activity by drone pilots, airmen and law enforcement alike,” he continues.
In a recent letter to Buddy Dyer, mayor of Orlando, the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) took issue with the ordinance’s “vague and overly broad language criminalizing the operation of a UAS ‘with the intent to offend, annoy, abuse, threaten, or harass any person.’”
In the letter, Mickey H. Osterreicher, the NPPA’s general counsel, said the city’s ordinance “poses a serious risk to innovative use of drones by journalists to gather and disseminate information and images on matters of public concern, as well as the public’s right to receive news.”
“The chilling legal repercussions of this bill will tax an overburdened court system and thwart the federal government’s efforts … to bring about a sensible regulatory regime for this new technology,” continued the letter, referring to the “arrest and punishment” (under Orlando City Code) that violations of the ordinance would bring. Orlando Weekly notes that fines could reach $200-$400.
Writing for the Orlando Sentinel, Brian Wynne, president and CEO of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, believes Orlando’s ordinance will “severely restrict” drone operators’ “ability to conduct day-to-day operations.”
Pointing out that laws prohibiting “careless, reckless and illegal behavior – such as trespassing or endangering property” already exist in the city, Wynne said any “drone-specific ordinances” are, therefore, “redundant and unnecessary.”
“Because of this,” he wrote, “efforts by the Orlando City Council to impose its own restrictions on where and how drones can be flown will only serve to limit the tremendous economic potential that Florida stands to gain from the drone industry.”