By James DeRuvo (doddleNEWS)
Following an incident last year where a drone crashed into power lines, leaving the community of West Hollywood, CA, without power, the city council this week voted unanimously to severely restrict drone activity in the skies above it. While it may be one of the first, I have a hunch it won’t be the last.
“All the sudden you just see a flash, like a boom and sparks, and you could see the drone dropping to the ground.” – KABC producer Chris Gordon, who witnessed the incident
Drone operators are already facing issues with insurers balking at covering their aerial activities. But now it looks like the long arm of the law is getting involved. Here’s what happened: A man was flying what looks to be a DJI Inspire 1 around West Hollywood when it crashed into power lines, knocking out electricity all around the Los Angeles burrough. Not only that, but repair efforts caused a massive traffic jam, closing down two westbound lanes on Sunset Boulevard, as Edison crews worked to repair the damage.
The power was restored within a few hours, but clearly it had a lasting effect on the West Hollywood City Council, who approved an ordinance, which borrows from a City of Los Angeles drone law that places both civil and criminal penalties on any wayward drone operator violating said ordinance.
In the case of L.A., there’s already a pair of pilots are could face up to six months in jail for being the first prosecuted under the new drone restrictions. The complaint alleges that Michael Ponce, 20, and Arvel Chappel, 35 were flying their drone within three miles of several heliports around the area, even a near miss that caused an LAPD chopper to abort their landing.
West Hollywood’s ordinance doesn’t go that far, but it does require drone operators to register their UAVs with the city of West Hollywood to receive an official city-issued permit and sticker, which will be placed on the drone for identification. Drones are already required to be registered with the FAA if they weigh between 0.55 and 55 pounds, and the required city registration would go along with it.
Additionally, drone pilots will be prohibited from flying any unmanned aerial vehicle at night, nor fly above city parks during sponsored events, unless permitted to do so. Flying above all government buildings, including City Hall, is also prohibited.
But not all politicians share local government concern for drone safety in the same regard. According to the L.A. Times, California Governor Jerry Brown vetoed three bills last fall that would have prohibited drone operators from flying over wildfires, schools, prisons and jails.
“Drone technology certainly raises novel issues that merit careful examination,” Brown wrote in his veto message. “This bill, however, while well-intentioned, could expose the occasional hobbyist and the FAA-approved commercial user alike to burdensome litigation and new causes of action.”
Frankly, I’m surprised that Brown would take that stand, but he may be mindful of the emerging nature of this category of disruptive technology, and how it can have a direct impact on both news reporting, real estate, and commerce. Or it just may be that he didn’t like how the bills were worded and the restrictions it sought to employ.
Either way, the government is striking back against what has become the wild west of drone operation. And you can bet it’s going to get worse before it gets better.