It’s a bird. It’s a plane. No, it’s a drone. Do you know if it is being operated within proper guidelines?
While industries are looking to drones to save money, area legislators said some are successful while others refrain from using them because there are no guidelines in place at the state level.
Sen. Frank Simpson, R-Springer, and Rep. Pat Ownbey, R-Ardmore, are currently working on a bill to remedy the issue.
“This whole thing’s gonna be like eating an elephant,” Simpson said, adding it will likely be a three or four-year project. “It’s how much of a bite do we want to take of the elephant the first year.”
The legislators’ goal will be to focus on two main issues for now — citizen privacy and economic opportunity for the state.
“We wanted to address the concerns of our constituents as far as personal privacy goes, but we didn’t want to send a signal to the industry that we’re not drone-friendly,” Simpson said.
The privacy issues were fairly easy to address since trespass laws are already in place. It is now matter of incorporating the drone aspect into the trespass statute.
Normally, people think of trespassing as someone walking onto their property, Simpson said, but theoretically, a person also owns the airspace above their property.
“How much of it do you own? That’s still being
debated,” he said. “Does it go to 200 feet, or 500 feet, or does it go to two miles, or does it go to the moon, who knows?”
One thing that factors in is reasonable expectation of privacy, such as someone in their hotel room or in their yard that has a 10-foot privacy fence around it.
“What we established was, if you come below 200 feet of someone’s property then you’re probably trespassing on their property and that needs to be addressed,” Simpson said.
Overall, the legislation will focus more on permitted uses for drones with only two aspects of limiting drone use, the privacy aspect and wildfires.
While looking at drone legislation in different states, Simpson said they wanted to incorporate legislation Utah passed last year.
What had been a manageable fire in Utah, turned into a massive wildfire when aircraft dropping suppressants had to be grounded because drones flew in to take pictures.
Specific language the legislators want to include is having the incident commander’s approval to fly a drone within three miles of a wildfire.
Simpson said the things they will focus on in their bill and “give the green light” on is pipeline inspection, utility inspection, law enforcement and agricultural users.
One thing that may “ruffle the feathers” of the Federal Aviation Administration is allowing those in the pipeline industry, utility companies and agricultural producers to exceed the line of sight, he said.
“That goes against FAA guidelines,” Simpson said, adding that he sees it as “Model-T restrictions to control a Cadillac.”
The city of Ardmore owns a drone, originally planning to use it for marketing, but have since saved money by using it to check out damage on a tower.
Instead of paying a contractor to climb up the tower twice, once to find the damage and once to repair it, IT Director Robert Newell said he was able to fly the drone up and identify which parts needed to be replaced.
Other potential uses could include city property inspection, search and rescue, marketing material and storm damage assessment.
According to statistics provided by the Oklahoma Department of Commerce regarding drones, there has already been a $57 million economic impact on the state.
Local resident and business owner Nathan Ebbert, who typically flies his drone for recreation, said he has been able to use it as a tool, as well.
“I look on my roof, see if there’s anything down in my chimney,” Ebbert said.
While privacy issues do cross his mind when flying, he said most of the time he flies in a designated area, such as the RC Flying Field at Lake Murray State Park.
Some may misuse drones, but Ebbert said the majority of people he knows flying drones comply with regulations. His concern is that those who use a drone irresponsibly could end up ruining it for the rest of them.
“It’s as close as you can get to flying without getting a pilot’s license,” Ebbert said. “It’s hard to describe the sense of freedom and also the amount of fun it is just to be flying.”
Ebbert owns Tactics Gun and Sport, which specializes in everything from small toy drones all the way up to professional camera rigs.
“We help people do their drones properly,” he said.
Newell also suggested those looking to invest in a drone should check out FAA regulations first at www.faa.gov/uas.
“You need to realize you are the one who is on the hook if you break a law. You are the one who has to pay or do the time. They don’t just take away your toy and send you home. Be safe and respect the people and property around you,” Newell said.