Alabaster seeking feedback from FAA on drone ordinance

Published 10:50 am Wednesday, October 31, 2018

By NEAL WAGNER / Managing Editor

ALABASTER – The Alabaster City Council has made some changes to its original proposed drone ordinance, and will postpone voting on it until it receives feedback from the Federal Aviation Administration, council members said during an Oct. 30 work session.

The council originally was set to hold a public hearing on the proposed drone ordinance during its Nov. 5 meeting, but council members said they will delay the hearing and voting on the matter to give them time to share the ordinance with the FAA and get the organization’s feedback.

Council members originally discussed the proposed ordinance during a mid-October work session, during which they said they were planning to model Alabaster’s ordinance after the ordinance in place at Orange Beach.

If the ordinance passes, Alabaster would be among the first cities in Alabama to enact such regulations, City Administrator Brian Binzer said previously.

“Recent developments in (unmanned aircraft system) technology make it possible for drones to travel at speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour, to carry payloads, video cameras and other recording devices and to be operated remotely from great distances from the operator, all of which increases the potential for injury to persons and property within the city of Alabaster,” reads the proposed ordinance. “The City Council of the city of Alabaster finds that while a majority of UAS devices will be used for lawful purposes, either commercially or by hobbyists, the devices can be used to conduct unlawful or unwanted surveillance, voyeuristic or other intrusive activities.”

As originally proposed, the Alabaster ordinance sought to regulate where a drone operator could and couldn’t fly a drone in the city. Alabaster City Attorney Jeff Brumlow said the city doesn’t have the authority to regulate airspace in the city, as it falls under FAA jurisdiction, but said the city can regulate where a drone takes off and lands.

As the ordinance reads now, a drone operator would be allowed to take off and land on their own property and from designated areas in the city, and would be required to have the consent of the property owner to take off and land elsewhere in the city.

However, the city can enforce voyeurism and harassment laws on drone activity, and would still require a drone operator flying over a highly attended event such as CityFest, an athletic contest or parade to have an FAA license.

The city likely also would require commercial drone pilots, such as those working with real estate companies, to have an FAA license and a city business license.