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Anchorage Assemblyman seeks to restrict ‘modern nuisance’ of drones over private property

  • Author: Devin Kelly
  • Updated: December 2, 2017
  • Published February 13, 2017

Anchorage Assemblyman Patrick Flynn wants to add drones to the list of public nuisances with the hope of stopping small, noisy, remote-controlled aircraft from buzzing into backyards and startling neighbors.

An ordinance being introduced to the Assembly this week would bar drones from flying within 50 feet above a house, business or even a shed without permission from the property owner.  

Flouting the rules could lead to a fine of up to $300 for a first offense and up to $600 for subsequent offenses. In a memo accompanying his ordinance, Flynn described it as aimed "to protect Anchorage residents from private intrusion."

Anchorage has yet to adopt any local drone regulations. Flynn, who represents downtown, called his measure a first step.

In an interview Monday, Flynn recalled reading a book during vacation last year and hearing a buzzing sound.

He looked around and saw a drone hovering about 20 feet nearby.

"I thought, 'That's pretty irritating,' " Flynn said. He refers to drones as a "modern nuisance" in his ordinance.

Flynn went to a National League of Cities conference last fall and attended a symposium on drones. He said he learned there's limited federal regulations on drone use over private property.

His ordinance defines drones, also known as "unmanned aerial vehicles" or "UAV," as weighing less than 55 pounds and remotely controlled, far smaller than the military drones that spy on enemy positions or fire missiles. Flynn's ordinance exempts nonmotorized toy gliders and kites.

Flynn said he sees his ordinance as the first of many steps the city can take to regulate drones locally.

"The first is, basically, people can't use drones to annoy you in your backyard, when you're gardening, mowing the law or sipping your morning latte," Flynn said.

He said he hadn't fielded complaints from constituents. His ordinance is aimed at preventing future problems, he said.

Flynn's measure would exempt government drones, though the city of Anchorage has yet to adopt policies when it comes to using drones for municipal purposes.

But Flynn said the Assembly should look to adopt such policies in the future. Drones could be helpful for transmission line inspections for the city electric utility, for example, he said.

Flynn also said his ordinance does not interfere with federal regulations.

The Federal Aviation Administration said its rules generally govern airspace and allow local governments to make drone policy involving land use, zoning, privacy, trespass and law enforcement operations.

In the absence of a federal program, Flynn said the Assembly should start talking about regulating drones at the local level.

His ordinance appears on Tuesday's Assembly agenda, and a public hearing will be set for a future meeting.

Correction: This story has been edited to reflect the fact that the ordinance bars flying over a person's property, not adjacent to it.