Letter: Encinitas should adopt local drone ordinance

By Encinitas standards, Christmas Day was blustery. Winds were 15 miles per hour, gusting to 20. By any standard, a bad day to fly a drone. But that didn’t stop some from trying.

Two drones showed up at Cardiff Sports Park, and one crashed three times because of gusty winds. The drone pilot then decided to take his drone to the top of a children’s slide to launch from a higher spot. I was about 20 feet away, downwind, with my 2-year-old daughter. “That is a really bad idea,” I said, then asked that he take the drone to an open athletic field nearby.

The FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 limited the FAA’s rulemaking authority over hobby or recreational drones, but reaffirmed its enforcement authority when “safety of the national airspace system” is endangered. Now, federal lawmakers are justifiably alarmed because of a rash of reckless incidents involving consumer drone pilots that glaringly reveals legitimate public safety issues exist.

The FAA reports more than 700 dangerous drone incidents with manned aircraft nationwide. Of those, one in five occurred in California, more than any other state. Los Angeles experienced the most, with 42 incidents; San Diego experienced 14 incidents; and Carlsbad experienced 4 incidents.

A stream of dangerous drone incidents in the news coincides with the sudden proliferation of consumer drones, and exemplifies the public safety issues that now exist. Some incidents involved injuries … some serious.

•A baby suffered a cut on her head from flying shrapnel when a drone crashed on a sidewalk in Pasadena last September after the communications link was lost.

•A rogue drone buzzed into power wires lining Sunset Boulevard knocking one to the ground and cutting off power to about 700 customers last October. Authorities could not locate the pilot of the wayward drone.

These are a few examples of pilots operating their drones irresponsibly. There are a lot more. Olympic silver medalist Marcel Hirscher was almost clobbered by an out-of-control drone during a ski event in Italy last week.

Drone registration is needed to enable law enforcement agencies to apprehend operators of errant drones. The registration process also provides an opportunity to educate new entrants to the drone hobby about the responsibilities of flight.

Many state and local governments are enacting sensible regulations with regard to drone technology and drone operations within their communities. A comprehensive ordinance is now being considered for New York City, despite protests from drone lobbyists and their lawyers. Encinitas should follow.

Encinitas City councilmembers should be proactive in adopting a local drone ordinance. A comprehensive ordinance establishing community-based rules would compel recreation drone pilots to abide by safety guidelines and would empower local law enforcement personnel.

John Herron, Encinitas

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