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Manchester, Opinion

Manchester Backs Down From Drone Ban

The Manchester Council

Manchester Council

Members of the Manchester Township Council seen at Monday night’s meeting. (Photo by Gavin Rozzi)

Reason prevailed in Manchester at Monday’s council meeting, as after hearing the concerns of citizens, the Manchester Township Council unanimously voted to table an all-out ban on drones over the skies of Manchester.

An ill-conceived and potentially unenforceable ordinance banning the use of drones in Manchester Township has been tabled, for now at least. The earliest date the council will consider revisiting any potential drone regulations would be on May 9th.

Vague Ordinance Didn’t Have Any Penalties, On Shaky Legal Ground

The now tabled ordinance, drafted by township attorney Angela M. Koutsouris – who is now employed by serial tax delinquent Ocean County GOP boss George Gilmore‘s law firm – was deeply flawed. Koutsouris said that the township received “a lot of feedback” in the days leading up the public hearing.

Despite the ordinance decreeing that the use of drones by private citizens would be “prohibited”, no penalties were established in the draft ordinance.

Additionally, the language of the ordinance took liberty in defining drones banned for the purpose of this ordinance as “any unmanned aircraft” that is “…equipped with any sensing device or capable of any data collection.”

Due to sensors being a common addition to many model and hobby aircraft, children’s toys, and even on drones operated for aerial photography, this ordinance can be interpreted to outright ban all of these things, a fact that Councilman Brendan Wiener acknowledged at the meeting.

Furthermore, the ordinance would restrict any “data collection” by drones to either the property of the owner or only those who have given express written permission. The legality of photographing anything publicly visible has been well protected in case law, and for good reason. Any such restriction would run afoul of established case law, in addition to raising issues under 1st amendment of the US Constitution.

FAA Frowns On Local Regulation Of Drone Use

The Federal Aviation Administration, in addition to operating within the regulatory framework established by the US Congress in the FAA Modernization Act of 2012

In addition to outlawing municipalities from regulating certain aspects of the “navigable airspace,” the FAA is not a fan of individual states and municipalities introducing limitations on drone operation. Neither members of the council, nor attorney Angela Koutsouris indicated that they consulted with the FAA in the design of this ordinance.

The FAA’s position on local drone ordinance is outlined in a fact sheet from the federal agency’s chief counsel, which states in part:

“Substantial air safety issues are raised when state or local governments attempt to regulate the operation or flight of aircraft. If one or two municipalities enacted ordinances regulating UAS in the navigable airspace and a significant number of municipalities followed suit, fractionalized control of the navigable airspace could result.”

“Patchwork” Of Local Laws Could Create Chaos In The Skies

“In turn, this ‘patchwork quilt’ of differing restrictions could severely limit the flexibility of FAA in controlling the airspace and flight patterns, and ensuring safety and an efficient air traffic flow. A navigable airspace free from inconsistent state and local restrictions is essential to the maintenance of a safe and sound air transportation system.”

Council Members Listened

Speaking as a drone owner who has used drones for journalistic purposes, I in addition to several Manchester citizens addressed the council regarding the flaws of the ordinance. Specifically, rather than pursuing an outright ban of drones, several council members instead indicated that it may be beneficial to pursue restricting drone use only at township events, such as Manchester Day.

They were reasonable and receptive to the concerns we raised, and we hope that if this issue is brought up again in May that they will avoid the pitfalls of the tabled measure.

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