Americas Civil Multirotor

Federal government grounds Lakewood’s drone after initial flight


By Bruce Geiselman

LAKEWOOD, Ohio – The federal government is grounding the city’s new $1,200Phantom 2 Vision drone, at least for the time being.

Lakewood purchased the drone, which includes a high-resolution camera lens, for help keeping an eye on storm water discharges and erosion along Lake Erie.

The city’s engineering department got the drone, which resembles a child’s remote-controlled helicopter, airborne only once before getting a call from the Federal Aviation Administration.

“As you know, here in City Hall, seldom is heard a discouraging word,” Mayor Mike Summers told City Council Tuesday. “But, unfortunately, Engineer (Mark) Papke received word from the Federal Aviation Administration that our drone, following its maiden voyage, has been grounded pending federal authority to fly it.”

Papke said he received a call from an FAA employee who had read a news story about Lakewood’s purchase of a drone. The employee, who did not return a reporter’s call, told Papke the city needs to obtain a certificate of waiver or authorization to fly the drone.

The city plans on filling out the necessary forms online for the waiver, but because of the complexity of the information requested and the regulations involved, his department may need assistance from a certified pilot, Papke said. The city has some pilots on staff, he said.

FAA spokeswoman Elizabeth Cory said the agency is looking at how to safely integrate the use of drones into airspace. However, the agency rejects the term drone, instead calling the tiny aircraft “unmanned aircraft systems.”

“Drones are more military,” Cory said.

“We understand UAS’s have some very positive applications, but we want to ensure that this is being used safely,” she said. “We need to ensure the safety of people in the air and on the ground.”

Hobbyists who use model aircraft for recreational purposes are able to fly them without special permission from the FAA providing they follow guidelines that include keeping the aircraft below 400 feet and away from populated areas and full-scale aircraft. However, the aircraft cannot be used for business purposes without special permission.

The FAA is granting waivers only to public entities, such as government agencies, for unmanned aircraft systems. There is no means available to obtain a waiver for commercial operation of the devices, according to the agency’s website. However, the agency is in the process of updating its policies. The FAA chose six test sites in December to review the technology and develop regulations for its use.

Cory said the agency wants potential buyers to be aware of the restrictions before they purchase one of the many devices sold online.

If the FAA grants Lakewood a waiver, it likely would allow the device to be used only in a defined block of airspace. The waivers typically limit flights to daytime hours and are issued for a specific period. Special training for the operator also may be required.

The process for granting a waiver typically takes at least 60 days, according to the FAA.

Papke said that on the bright side, the drone’s maiden flight went well. They flew the drone in a local park and were able to take pictures with it. He hopes to have FAA permission in place by spring to use the device along the shore of Lake Erie.

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