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Albany County Addresses Drone Regulation

A commercial UAV/drone flying at night.

If you live in Albany County and you're giving or getting a drone for the holidays, you have time to get it airborne before any "no fly zone" is imposed.  A bill before county legislators that would ban the devices has been grounded for the time being.

As concerns mount nationwide over privacy and security issues involving the devices, a public hearing Tuesday night in Albany gives citizens the opportunity to discuss proposed rules and regulations restricting drones throughout the county.

Both the FAA and the Consumer Electronics Association estimate anywhere from 750,000 to over a million of the tiny flying machines will be sold this holiday season.

A drone ban would be the latest in a series of progressive laws — not always easy to enforce — by county lawmakers, which include banning styrofoam cups, toxic toys and microbeads in personal hygiene products.  But federal regulations could supercede any local laws.

County Legislator Gary Domalewicz represents the 10th District:   "The feds are looking at it, and they're gonna be making some decision on regulating drones, probably before we get to it.  So we'll see what course of action the federal government does on these drones. And these drones are different than what I had, a model plane that we used to fly around the neighborhood, with remote controls. Today, they're more sophisticated, so it's something that we certainly have to look at, especially around important installations around the county."

In October, U.S. Senator Schumer discussed drones at Albany FBI headquarters.  The New York Democrat has been beating the drum for clear FAA guidelines concerning drones since the beginning of the year, pushing for restrictions that would prevent them from entering the airspace of law enforcement agencies, government buildings, sports stadiums, and public events.   "A local person flew a hobby drone over this very building. This is sensitive information. Who knows who had the drone? Obviously when you're the FBI and you see a drone unknown flying over your building it causes real concern. The video was then uploaded on YouTube. It's frightening to think that anyone with a drone can get this close to a law enforcement building, especially one in a heavily-populated area. Not long before that, a drone flew over the correctional facility in Danemora, the high-security prison that recently became famous nationwide as its two escapees that were captured, one killed. Imagine the risk that poses. The ability to bring contraband into the prison or the general safety of the inmates, staff.  And finally, the same person crashed a drone into the state capitol here in Albany. The drone smashed into the building's chimney before falling on the roof, no one was injured. "

Schumer's "Consumer Drone Safety Act" would require drone manufacturers to include geo-fencing technology; think of an electronic force field that would stop the flying machines dead in their tracks.   "You could say, no drone can go within two miles of an airport. No drone can go above 500 feet. No drone can go in a half a mile perimeter of this FBI building. You could write it in so that every police station in the Capital Region has a no-fly zone, and it would be automatic, the drone simply couldn't fly there."

Federal regulations have yet to materialize.

District 5 Albany County Legislator Chris Higgins says the local law is still in committee.  "Given the fact that the federal government is taking action on the issue, we very well might not even pick it up.  The other issue is that because January 1st a new legislature will be seated, all local laws that are currently pending in committee will have to be re-introduced in the New Year, and essentially we'll start the process over, where there will be another public hearing and consideration of all these various local laws including the local law to ban the recreational flying of drones."

  • A public hearing and comment period opens at 7:15 p.m. in the legislative chambers of the Albany County Courthouse.
Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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