Chicago Park District may require permits to fly drones

Drone operators may have one more layer of red tape to get through so they can fly the small unmanned aircraft over Chicago Park District property including harbors on the lakefront.

During the Chicago Park District's monthly meeting Wednesday, a measure requiring drone operators to get a special city permit to fly the small unmanned aircraft over park property was introduced, only to be tabled for another month.

The vote was postponed after board members questioned how the permitting process would work, who would approve the permits, how quickly approval would be granted and whether there would be any locations drones would not be allowed.

The lack of details left drone users, too, with questions on how the permits would work and the reason behind why a permit would be required. 

Chicagoan Colin Hinkle uses drones to take aerial photos and give a new perspective on the city and its landmarks like Buckingham Fountain. "It is a flying digital camera. We're not trying to spy on people," he told RedEye in a phone interview before the meeting.

If the permitting process is too obtrusive, Hinkle said, "It's not going to make me want to make beautiful aerial shots of Chicago."

In April, Hinkle was granted an exemption to current aircraft rules by the Federal Aviation Administration which authorizes the use of drones for commercial purposes. 

"It sounds to me a little like the city is trying to go for a money grab on permits," Hinkle said.

There's some concern that drones can "pose potential risks" to those who use park property, according to a park district document on the measure.

"Whether for commercial or recreational purposes, these small aircraft can fall from hundreds of feet above, crash into other craft flying near or hover in a manner that may disturb some people. Moreover, these aircraft may negatively impact the use and enjoyment of our parks, museums and harbors," the park district document states. 

By permitting drones, the park district said, it can manage the risks and still allow for recreational and commercial use.

But a permitting requirement could affect drone operators like Hinkle who creates videos featuring aerial footage of Chicago including Maggie Daley Park and 31st Street Harbor through his company, Soaring Badger Productions, LLC. 

"In the city of Chicago, our most beautiful areas are typically the parks," Hinkle said.

Until the FAA implements a new rule on drone operations, people and businesses who wish to use drones for commercial purposes like aerial photography need to get permission from the FAA.

The FAA tells users to stay away from buildings and populated events like concerts and sporting events, Hinkle said. Generally, the safest places to fly drones are at parks and wide open areas like the lakefront and Northerly Island, he said.

"You work so hard to get your (FAA) exemption and with one swift move of the pen now I can't use my drone in any parks in Chicago without a permit," Hinkle said.

 

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