In a 5-2 vote Tuesday, the Fort Wayne City Council approved an ordinance that requires drone operators to notify the city police department of plans to fly in specific areas and during large public events.
“The idea of the ordinance is to craft a notification requirement for flights that occur in the downtown area and then in and around city permitted public events,” Fort Wayne Police Lt. Jonathan Bowers said. “So those places where there's the highest public safety threat and risk to people.”
Under the ordinance, drone operators who wish to fly downtown or during a large public event such as the Three Rivers Festival would have to fill out a form located on the city website with their name, address, telephone number and an explanation of the purpose of the drone flight. The documentation is meant to be nonprohibitive and give the police department knowledge of who is flying at any given time in the downtown area.
“We don't approve or disapprove the flights there at all. We're requiring notification of those flights,” Bowers said. “The notification process is very minimal as far as time to fill out ... That bit of notification helps us coordinate what's going on in the area.”
The ordinance does not restrict flights or require approval, Bowers said, and does not conflict with any Federal Aviation Administration regulations regarding drone flights.
There is also an enforcement mechanism that allows the police department to address unsafe flights, Bowers said. Drones could be impounded for a period of time and fines could be imposed. According to the ordinance, violations carry penalties of up to $500 and drones or control boxes could be impounded for up to three days.
However, Bowers said the goal is not to discourage drone flights, but to encourage safety and education among the public.
“Our goal is to not restrict people from flying, just to make sure people know what they're doing and if there's an issue, we can have some knowledge of it and fix it,” Bowers said.
Tuesday's vote was preliminary. A final vote is next week, though final votes rarely change.
Councilmen Tom Didier, R-3rd, and Michael Barranda, R-at large, voted against the ordinance while Councilman Glynn Hines, D-6th, abstained. Councilman Paul Ensley, R-1st, was absent Tuesday.
In an interview after Tuesday's meeting, Hines said he abstained from the vote because he was unclear about whether the city would be liable for any drone accidents or injuries should someone cause harm to the community with a drone.
“Is there a procedure where (the police department) does background checks,” Hines said as an example. “If I have 20 people at the Three Rivers Festival and they all supposedly registered but two or three of them have a clandestine plan to do damage to the community, I'm a little leery of that, so I wanted to be on record as abstaining.”