ABERDEEN, S.D. - Drones - unmanned aircraft that can be equipped with cameras and other devices - have moved beyond the purview of the military, police forces, and delivery retailers to enter civilians' backyards as hobbyists get their hands on the latest craze in tech toys.
A story in The Atlantic, " Dudes with Drones," estimated that 500,000 drones were already in hobbyists' hands as of 2014, and the Federal Aviation Administration is predicting the sale of 1 million more drones this holiday season.
The South Dakota town of Aberdeen is preparing for the onslaught by considering an ordinance to govern the use of hobby drones.
Aberdeen's proposed ordinance "seeks to balance the various, and sometimes competing, interests of hobbyists, private and public property owners, patrons upon city properties, law enforcement officials, and governmental functions," according to the request for council action prepared by City Manager Lynn Lander. "Reasonable safety, security, and privacy concerns must be weighed against encroachment upon responsible recreational drone operation."
The ordinance would require solo operators to be older than 16 and sober, and forbid drones from hovering around non-operators without their consent. It would also ban the use of drones within a mile of the airport, around electrical lines and facilities, out of the operator's sight, or on city property except for in two city parks. Drones could still be flown over any private property during daylight hours, as long as the landowner has given his or her permission.
Although the proposed ordinance expresses concern about drone-related injuries, interference with the city's regional airport and the potential for invasion of privacy, Lander told NBC affiliate KDLT that the city is not "anti-drone."
In fact, the proposed ordinance praises the advent of hobbyist drones for promoting "technological innovation, economic growth, and job creation" and inspiring "a whole new generation of entrepreneurs and innovators to pursue careers in this field and in related high-tech industries in Aberdeen."
So far, Charlottesville, Virginia, and St. Bonifacius, Minnesota, have passed laws restricting the use of drones. Similar laws are under consideration in cities in California, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington, according to Syracuse University.
If passed, violators of the Aberdeen drone ordinance could face up to a $500 fine and/or 30 days in jail.
Lander did not respond to an email request for comment sent Monday night or to a message left with an assistant Tuesday morning.
On Monday, the FAA said it will start requiring owners of hobby drones weighing more than 0.55 pounds and less than 55 pounds - including payloads and onboard cameras - to register their toys as aircraft.
Drones purchased before Dec. 21 must be registered with the FAA by Feb. 19, 2016. Those who buy their drones after Dec. 21 must register the craft before the first flight.
"Make no mistake: unmanned aircraft enthusiasts are aviators, and with that title comes a great deal of responsibility," U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement. "Registration gives us an opportunity to work with these users to operate their unmanned aircraft safely. I'm excited to welcome these new aviators into the culture of safety and responsibility that defines American innovation."
The FAA said that drones used for business purposes will have to be registered sometime in 2016, although no specific deadline has been set.
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