Police Comm. Views OC As No Fly Zone For Drones

OCEAN CITY — The conversation continued this week on deeming all of Ocean City essentially a “no fly zone” for unmanned remote-controlled aircraft with the Police Commission agreeing the resort is off limits for drones with possibly one singular exception.

The debate began last week with the Recreation and Parks Commission introducing prototype signs declaring the town’s parks off limits to remote-controlled unmanned aircraft, most commonly referred to as drones. The Mayor and Council got a little taste of it last week when a real estate industry representative urged the elected officials to consider a potential exception for common sense, practical real estate applications.

The debate on a proposed “no fly zone” for drones in Ocean City was this week bounced back to the Police Commission because it was widely believed the Ocean City Police Department (OCPD) would likely have to enforce any restrictions. However, it was learned on Monday the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) holds sway over all regulations and enforcement regarding unmanned, remote-controlled aircraft.

“What the FAA wants local law enforcement to do is investigate and report directly to them,” said OCPD Captain Kevin Kirstein on Monday. “They want us to interview operators, collect evidence including serial numbers etc. and locations and provide them with the information for enforcement on their end.”

In a nut shell, the OCPD can investigate drone usage in the resort area, but must turn over its findings to the FAA for adjudication.

“This is not a local enforcement issue,” said Kirstein. “I don’t whip out my book and write a drone ticket. It has to be handled by the FAA and we report to them.”

According to Ocean City’s interpretation of Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) guidelines concerning drones and remote-controlled aircraft, much of the resort area is already off limits. For example, the FAA regulations prohibit drone use within five miles of an airport, which would cover much of Ocean City with its municipal airport just across the bay in West Ocean City. In addition, the proliferation of banner planes, parasailing and other uses in the skies over the resort would likely prohibit drone use, according to the FAA regulations.

“They can’t be operated within a five-mile radius of the airport, so that takes up most of the town,” said Kirstein. “The rest of the town lies in an exemption zone granted to the banner planes. Basically, all of Ocean City is a no fly zone for recreational use.”

However, it turns out there is a procedure for a private-sector individual to gain a commercial license to operate drones for real estate or marketing or tourism purposes and thus far just one individual has gone through the process and acquired the license in Ocean City.

“There is one guy who worked through all of the hoops with Jamie [Ocean City Airport manager Jamie Giandomenico] and the FAA to get the commercial license to operate drones here,” said Kirstein. “They have to have a pilot’s license and he was a licensed pilot on his staff. Most ‘Johnny Come Lately’ operators do not. If you’re already a pilot, you can take the online training. Otherwise there is a whole list of strict requirements and only one guy has completed it thus far.”

Mayor Rick Meehan said it could be a lucrative business for someone willing to undergo the extensive vetting and training.

“It’s a viable business if somebody can go through all of the hoops,” he said. “This has all kinds of applications from real estate and restaurant marketing to promotional videos and a whole bunch of things.”

After considerable debate, the Police Commission voted to revisit the issue in roughly 30 days at their next meeting to map out the town’s recommended response and action plan.

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.