Huntington Town officials air drone concerns

Huntington Town officials air drone concerns

Photo from Flickr/David Rodriguez Martin

Huntington officials have their eyes on the skies.

The Huntington Town Board voted to schedule a public hearing that would regulate the recreational use of unmanned aircraft systems “so that operation of same is respectful of community standards, the concerns of residents as well as protect property and privacy rights,” according to the resolution authorizing the hearing.

Huntington Town Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D), who sponsored the measure, said he was inspired to do so in part by an experience he had shooting a promotional town video outside.

“And lo and behold up above, a drone,” he said.

Cuthbertson said he couldn’t tell who was operating the device.

“It all could be for very benevolent purposes, taking pictures of the boats on the water, but it could be something more nefarious,” Cuthbertson said. “You don’t know. So I think we need to at least start a discussion of how these things are used and what they’re used for.”

The proposed law defines an unmanned aircraft, also known as a drone or a model aircraft, as “a non-human carrying aircraft weighing no more than 55 pounds, capable of sustained flight in the atmosphere intended exclusively for sport, recreation, education and/or competition and is typically guided by remote control or onboard computers.” Restrictions would apply to all properties in the unincorporated parts of town — residential, commercial and otherwise.

Under the new rules, if approved, no one would be allowed to use the aerial devices to collect images or information on individuals, homes, business or property at locations where there is “a reasonable expectation of privacy.” That conduct would be prohibited unless permission is obtained from the individual property owner or manager.

It would also be illegal to pilot an unmanned aircraft on private property or town property without the owner or the town’s consent; pilot an unmanned aircraft that interferes with manned aircraft; or pilot an unmanned craft outside the operator’s visual line of sight.

The new rules would prohibit piloting an unmanned aircraft higher than 400 feet from the ground, near or over unprotected persons or moving vehicles at a height less than 25 feet from same; operate the devices under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol; use the devices in adverse weather such as high winds or reduced visibility; or pilot an unmanned aircraft near or over sensitive infrastructure or property like power stations, sewage treatment facilities and heavily traveled roadways in Huntington Town.

Those who violate the proposed law could be punished via a fine not exceeding $1,000 or imprisonment for up to 15 days.

The board voted to schedule the public at its meeting on Tuesday. Councilwoman Susan Berland (D) was the only one who voted against the measure.

“I think it’s premature, at best,” she said, noting that she had questions about how this law would be enforced and whether it would interfere with the Federal Aviation Administration or other jurisdictions looking into the matter.

In an interview after the meeting, Supervisor Frank Petrone (D), who seconded Cuthbertson’s resolution, said it was worth it to start the conversation with a public hearing.

“It’s a problem,” he said. “Bring it up, let’s air it.”

Earlier this year, U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) called on the FAA to employ sweeping drone regulations, including limits on how high the devices could fly and where or when they can be used. He and several other lawmakers zeroed in on drone regulations after an incident in which a drone operator flew an aircraft onto the White House property in Washington, D.C.

The FAA released several proposals for the usage of drones, requiring them to fly below 500 feet, away from airports and other secure airspaces and more, which Schumer applauded as a step in the right direction.

“Overall, the American public is a lot better off today with the FAA’s proposed drone regulations than we were yesterday, particularly related to the safety of our air travelers,” he said in a statement in February. “However, I will continue to work with the FAA to expand eligible commercial uses for drones and further protect privacy and safety.

The town board public hearing will take place on July 14 at 2 p.m.