The Journal Gazette
Tuesday, April 23, 2019 1:00 am

Council to consider limits for drone use

Would require form to fly above events

DAVE GONG | For The Journal Gazette

A new ordinance being introduced today to the Fort Wayne City Council would place limits on where and when drone operators can fly their aircraft. 

“The regulations set forth in this ordinance seek to promote the ability of hobbyists and commercial users to operate Unmanned Aircraft Systems safely within the city of Fort Wayne while recognizing the need to protect citizens and public safety personnel in designated areas and circumstances where heightened safety concerns are present,” the ordinance states.

Specifically, the ordinance prohibits flying a drone within a 5,500-foot radius of the Superior Lofts building, without first notifying the city. It would also be illegal to fly a drone, without notifying the city, within a 500-yard horizontal radius of, or anywhere above, a public event like the Three Rivers Festival or the Johnny Appleseed Festival. A public event would not have to take place downtown to be covered under this ordinance. 

Anyone who wants to operate a drone during public events or above the Downtown Aerial District would have to submit their name, address and telephone number to the city and explain the purpose of the drone flight as either recreational or commercial. Operators would also need to submit registration certificate numbers provided by the Federal Aviation Administration and the operator's remote pilot certificate number to the city for documentation. 

The idea behind the ordinance is to encourage safety and provide law enforcement a record of who might be flying a drone near downtown or at public events, said Lt. Jonathan Bowers, head of the Fort Wayne Police Department's Air Support Team.

The form drone operators would need to fill out would be available on the city website and take between one and five minutes to complete, Bowers said. 

The police department won't use the form to approve or deny anyone the ability to fly their drone, Bowers said. Officials just want a record of who plans to operate downtown or during major events, in case there is a problem. 

“If we don't see any concerns with it or get any complaints, we probably won't even contact that person,” Bowers said. “If there are issues, we'll have an idea of who might be flying there.”

The main purpose of the ordinance, Bowers said, is to cut down on the number of unsafe flights that take place during events like the July 4 fireworks display. Should a drone get hit by a firework or lose battery power, it could cause serious injury as it falls, Bowers said. 

Anyone who violates the ordinance could be fined up to $500 for each violation. Additionally, any drones or control boxes could be confiscated and impounded up to three days. However, Bowers said the majority of problem drone users the department encounters are new hobbyists who might not fully understand the rules.

“What we hope for is community awareness and hope people take a little more effort when they come down and fly,” Bowers said.

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