New drone rules 'common sense'

Whether photographing real estate with drones or flying remote-controlled planes for fun, local operators know the airspace is public and acknowledge the need for rules like those just released by the Federal Aviation Administration for smaller unmanned aerial systems.

"It's pretty much common sense," said Scott Gerami, a realtor with Re/Max Professionals Select of Naperville, who uses a drone in his business. "You don't fly over people, you keep it under 400 feet in the air and stay away from airports."

As use of drones has increased for commercial purposes and by law enforcement, as well as for recreation, controversy erupted over near-misses with other aircraft, privacy and other issues. Stepping in to regulate their commercial operation promotes safety and could boost the nation's economy and create new jobs, the FAA says.

Among other specifics, the rules, which take effect in August, mandate that an operator must be at least 16, have a remote pilot certificate, keep the drone within visual line of sight, only fly during daylight hours and not fly over unprotected people on the ground who aren't directly participating in the drone's operation.

Gerami just finished six months of work with the 23-person Illinois Unmanned Aerial Systems Task Force.

"We compiled a very in-depth, detailed 56-page report," he said. "We're presenting it to the governor and the legislature as they consider possible drone rules for the state of Illinois."

One problem, Gerami noted, was that many cities are taking it upon themselves to develop regulations for drones.

"Actually, the airspace belongs to the FAA," he said. "It doesn't belong to the state or a city. They can make rules about takeoffs and landings in their areas, but they cannot govern the airspace."

What the report spells out is common-sense safety, something already practiced by hobbyists who fly model rockets or radio-controlled airplanes.

"If people want to do this as a hobby, safety is number one," said Jeff Peca of Naperville, safety chairman for the Fox Valley Aero Club. "We all realize that without the right safety precautions, none of this would be happening. We take it very seriously."

Peca and his fellow club members participated in the third annual Windy City Warbirds & Classics event last weekend in Geneva. Participants from six surrounding states and Canada flew model aircraft from propeller-driven to jet-powered. Safety was evident as spectators sat in bleachers behind chain-link fence and tennis nets lined the runway in case a plane went astray.

FAA regulations stipulate that clubs for RC planes and model rocketry take such safety precautions.

"A lot of guys who have the RC planes also operate drones, and some of them also are into rocketry," Peca said. "Our message to the community is: these all are great hobbies. Get involved with them, but do it safely."

FAA spokesperson Elizabeth Cory said all model aircraft operators "must realize they are pilots, and they must be aware of the recreational rules in order to operate in the nation's airspace."

Cory said the unmanned aerial systems industry has estimated that more than 100,000 new jobs related to drones could be created over the next 10 years, possibly generating over $82 billion for the nation's economy.

For more information on the current rules for operating a drone, go to www.knowbeforeyoufly.org.

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Drone operators now need a permit to navigate over Wilmette parks

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