Drone Pilot SchoolBellingham holds off on adding drone restrictions to code

August 6, 2021by helo-10

The Bellingham City Council asked for more information about codifying a ban on drones taking off and landing on parks property.

The Bellingham City Council asked for more information about codifying a ban on drones taking off and landing on parks property.

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After hearing from drone operators, the City Council is holding off on putting into its books a ban on drones taking off and landing in Bellingham parks.

Council members heard from them during a public hearing on Monday night, May 24, and decided that they wanted more time and information on the matter and kicked the issue back to Bellingham Parks and Recreation staff, asking them to evaluate feedback the city received about the proposed drone regulations.

The draft drone language that was the focus of Monday night’s hearing reads: “The operation of any motorized drones are prohibited on any park property except those areas that may be designated and posted by the director of parks and recreation or with written permission by the director of parks and recreation.”

Parks officials already have been restricting drones on park property after a number of incidents between drones and park users, including a child being struck and hurt by one at Squalicum Creek Park, said Nicole Oliver, director of the Bellingham Parks and Recreation Department, in a previous Bellingham Herald article.

Had the City Council approved the proposal, the policy — a ban on taking off and landing in city of Bellingham parks without written permission — would have been put into the city’s municipal code.

“While they’re in the air they’re covered by the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration),” Oliver said to the City Council on Monday. “It doesn’t mean you can’t use a drone. You just have to get a special permit to film in the park.”

The requirement would allow the city to see the operators’ drone licenses and to make sure pilots clearly understand FAA rules about where they can fly in Bellingham “so we don’t have to worry about that,” Oliver said.

Council members wanted clarification on the drone language and whether there would be designated areas set up for people to fly drones.

“It was a little bit vague,” City Council member Lisa Anderson said of the proposal. “I do think it’s a sport that is growing. I can see both sides — safety and access — and then how do we provide both.”

Drone pilots and others weighed in during the hearing.

Bellingham resident Mark Ambler, who believes the public is split over the issue, said he posted information about the restrictions going before the City Council to The Seeing Bellingham Group, whose members post photos and videos, on Facebook and received over 300 comments in 24 hours.

“I’m not sure you’re considering all the potential uses for drones,” Ambler said, as he urged city officials to talk to the drone community. “I think you’re going to be surprised by what’s out there.”

Warren Rose, a senior at Sehome High School and captain of its robotics team, said drones encouraged his interest in STEM education (science, technology, engineering and math).

He started in seventh grade by building a drone, adding that being able to fly in a city park was important because there wasn’t open space where he lived. Flying drones cemented his interest in STEM.

“The ability for drone access in these parts is really important to be able to spur this growth and spur this interest in these subjects that I had,” said Rose, a drone pilot, who will study aerospace engineering when he leaves for college next year.

There are risks to operating a drone, he acknowledged, but added that most drones were being flown safely. He advocated for specific areas for drones to fly, adding that Sehome’s robotics team was getting more students interested in drones every year.

Rose said he was rebuilding a drone that, at 150 grams, weighed less than a Frisbee or a football.

“There’s a lot of safe ways that drones can be flown in the parks,” said James Gill, who also is a senior at Sehome High School and a drone pilot, adding that the proposal would hurt students’ STEM interest and their ability to learn about technology that will be big in the future.

Peter Vieth said there were different-sized drones, not just larger ones that have cameras on them, before showing the City Council a small one about the size of his cell phone that he said could be flown inside his home in winter.

“There’s a huge difference between the different drones,” Vieth said.

Other speakers said drone regulations should be left to the FAA, adding that the agency has fines and other penalties in place for violations.

Related stories from Bellingham Herald

Kie Relyea has been a reporter at The Bellingham Herald since 1997 and currently writes about social services and recreation in Whatcom County. She started her career in 1991 as a reporter and editor in Northern California.

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There is more to being a drone pilot than just buying a machine and flying in your backyard. It can be that simple, but most of us will need to understand some drone laws before we try to take to the sky.


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