Politics & Government

You may be able to fly your drones in most Raleigh city parks after all

Owners of small drones would be able to fly them in most Raleigh parks under a revised policy being considered by a city advisory committee.

Last summer, the initial draft of the policy called for limiting the use of drones to only seven parks with large open spaces, among other restrictions. It marked the first time Raleigh had moved to set limits on an increasingly popular hobby on city property.

But after months of meetings and feedback from drone enthusiasts, the committee pulled back on many of its earlier proposals. The draft policy was revised to allow “unmanned aerial vehicles,” or UAVs, that weigh less than 400 grams (about .88 pounds) to be flown in all city park properties, except those designated as nature preserves, nature parks, wetland centers or lakes.

UAVs that weigh more than 400 grams would be limited to large open spaces in six parks: Baileywick, Eastgate, Spring Forest, Marsh Creek, Dorothea Dix and Southgate. UAVs include not only drones but also remote-controlled airplanes and model rockets.

The Raleigh Parks Committee approved the policy last week and sent it on to the full Parks, Recreation and Greenway Advisory Board, which is expected to seek public feedback again at a meeting this spring. If the advisory board approves, the parks department would begin enforcing the policy in more than 100 parks.

Owners of small drones would be able to fly them in most Raleigh parks under a policy being considered by the city Parks, Recreation and Greenway Advisory Board. NCDOT

Several UAV fliers turned out when the Parks Committee worked on the policy last fall. But only a couple were on hand last week when the committee unanimously approved the final draft.

Committee chairman Patrick Buffkin took that as a sign that the drone community supported the policy, a sentiment echoed by Jared Brickman of the Raleigh-based drone company PrecisionHawk.

“We’re very pleased with where this has landed,” Brickman said.

Drone operators felt the city would be overstepping its authority with the original draft of the policy, which would have limited where and how high drones could fly and prohibited the use of cameras to take photos or video of private property. The Federal Aviation Administration, and not the city, should regulate UAVs in the air, they said.

In the end, the committee agreed and limited the policy to where and under what conditions UAVs could be launched. That includes drone racing, which would be limited to drones less than 1.7 pounds with plastic propellers. Fliers would also be barred from using trees as obstacles to race around.

Violators of the policy could be asked to leave the park or have their flying privileges revoked.

Drone enthusiasts also persuaded the committee to allow smaller UAVs that kids and other beginners are likely to fly in most city parks.

“We’re trying to foster the adoption of this technology,” said Brickman, referring to “little tykes” with their first UAV. “Let’s let them get in the parks and fly those drones.”

For more information about drones, including state laws governing their use, go to www.ncdot.gov/aviation/uas/.

Richard Stradling: 919-829-4739, @RStradling