ITHACA, NY – During a Wednesday meeting of a Tompkins County Legislature committee, a draft law regulating unammed aerial vehicles (UAVs) – or drones – in the county collapsed before it could even be voted on.

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The legislation, now several months in the works, was thrown a last minute curveball that seemed to deflate any commitment toward seeing the law move forward.

Related: Tompkins lawmakers propose restrictions on drone use

That curveball came in the form of a recent opinion issued by from the Federal Aviation Administration, outlining the FAA’s stance on drones and where they fit in terms of the FAA’s jurisdiction.. The opinion made it clear that the skies were the FAA’s territory, and they would be the ones to determine when and where a flying vehicle could operate.

Although the FAA opinion was not a codified law, it does represent the stance of the FAA on this issue, according to county attorney Jonathan Wood.

More concretely, the FAA announced early last week that all drones over a half-pound in weight are required to be registered with the FAA by mid-February.

In light of this new information, and following a disagreement regarding an amendment aimed at protecting model airplane enthusiasts, Legislator Dooley Keifer withdrew her motion to vote on the resolution. No other member of the committee felt strongly enough about it to reintroduce the motion, so the proposal effectively ended there.

According to the committee chair, Legislator Dan Klein, Kiefer could reintroduce the bill as a member-filed resolution to the whole of the legislature.

The DJI Phantom 2 Vision drone. Photo courtesy of Capricorn4049/Wikimedia.

What can be regulated?

With the FAA regulating registration and air space, what room is left for local governments to regulate UAVs?

The FAA’s recently released “Fact Sheet” on drones offers some suggestions on what localities can have full regulatory control over, and what sorts of regulations would require consultation with the FAA to enact.

Were they so inclined, Tompkins could legislate on the following issues:

  • Requiring police to obtain a warrant prior to using a UAVs for surveillance purposes.
  • Limiting the use of drone-mounted photography so as to prevent voyeurism.
  • Restrictions on mounting weaponry of any sort on drones.
  • Prohibitions on using UAVs for hunting or fishing, or to harass or disrupt an individual who is hunting or fishing.

Examples of regulations that would require FAA consulation and approval include:

  • Operational drone restrictions on flight altitude, flight paths; operational bans; or ny regulation of the navigable airspace. For example – a city ordinance banning anyone from operating UAS within the city limits, within the airspace of the city, or within certain distances of landmarks.
  • Mandating equipment or training for UAVs related to aviation safety.

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Michael Smith

Michael Smith reports on politics and local news for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached via email at msmith@ithacavoice.com, by cell at (607) 229-0885, or via Google Voice at (518) 650-3639.