Ocean City A No Fly Zone For Drones

OCEAN CITY — With the OC Air Show in full swing this weekend, town officials on Tuesday debated the legality of a different sort of aircraft in the skies and basically determined the resort is essentially a “no fly zone” for drones and similar remote control devices.

The Recreation and Parks Committee on Tuesday got their first look at the prototype for signs created by Special Events Director Frank Miller declaring much of the resort area a “no fly zone” for drones and similar aircraft. Miller created the signs at the direction of the committee after determining a strict interpretation of Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations concerning drones and remote controlled aircraft essentially made Ocean City off limits.

“The police department had a meeting to discuss the policy and based on FAA guidelines and regulations, we’re basically a no fly zone,” Miller told the committee. “For one thing, they can’t be operated within a five-mile radius of an airport.”

Councilman Dennis Dare said with the Ocean City Municipal Airport just across the bay in West Ocean City that regulation alone covered much of the resort area, but there were other issues involved as well.

“That takes care of downtown Ocean City,” he said. “There are also regulations regarding heavily populated areas and we also have the banner planes, so that effectively makes Ocean City a no fly zone. The big question will be enforcement.”

Recreation and Parks Director Susan Petito agreed the regulations appear to put most of the resort off limits, but questioned where the town should go from here in terms of enforcement.

“We really have no idea at this point the intent of the implementation,” she said.

Miller said the FAA has strict rules regarding who can use remote control aircraft and where.

“As it stands now, you just can’t be a hobbyist and use remote control aircraft in Ocean City,” he said. “You have to have a pilot’s license and you must go through the FAA’s 90-day approval process.”

However, because of the proliferation of drones and similar remote control aircraft, separating those approved by the FAA from the weekend warriors creates challenges. By following the letter of the law regarding Ocean City, the confusion could be eliminated.

“They’re easily accessible to buy, but if hobbyists can’t be within 500 feet of an individual, a residence, a vehicle or a boat, the effectively eliminates all of Ocean City,” he said.

Dare said it would ultimately fall on police to monitor drones and other remote control aircraft in the resort.

“The police are going to have to enforce it,” he said. “They are going to get the calls about drones buzzing overhead.”

Getting the message out about the restrictions on remote control aircraft in Ocean City will create challenges, which is why Miller was directed to create a prototype for the signage. However, Dare warned against posting signs throughout the resort area.

“I don’t think we need signs all over the place,” he said. “We have too many signs already. Maybe we could add them to the existing beach prohibition signs and the park prohibition signs.”

Miller said the signs were merely a sample of how the message could get out about the regulations regarding drones and similar aircraft and wondered what the next step should be.

“We’re just looking for some direction,” he said. “We think that direction should come from the police department.”

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.