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Great Neck Estates law bans drones, model planes

The Village of Great Neck Estates adopted a

The Village of Great Neck Estates adopted a local law prohibiting all unmanned aircraft, including drones and model airplanes "at any outdoor location in or over the village." Credit: Barry Sloan

As more drones take to the skies, the village of Great Neck Estates has declared itself a no-drone zone, surpassing restrictions other Long Island municipalities have implemented.

The trustees recently unanimously adopted a local law prohibiting all unmanned aircraft “at any outdoor location in or over the village,” encompassing both drones and model airplanes. Violators face a penalty of up to $500 for a first offense, and 15 days in jail for a second offense.

Village officials did not return multiple calls for comment.

Though drones are regulated on a federal level, Great Neck Estates joins an increasing number of municipalities that are enacting laws regulating the devices’ use, with local officials citing safety and privacy concerns amid the growing popularity of drones. Commercial and recreational drone sales are expected to nearly triple over the next four years, from 2.5 million to 7 million by 2020, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

Huntington Town and the village of Laurel Hollow have shied away from adopting total bans, but both have passed laws prohibiting imaging, surveillance and drones being flown on private property.

Carol Frank, 69, of Great Neck Estates, attended a March 14 public hearing in the village on the issue. A drone landed in her front yard last summer, she said.

“I think drones really are incredible,” Frank said, noting their usefulness in research. “But I don’t think in a dense neighborhood you should be flying them; they can get away from you.”

Drone user Steve Siedlecki, who also flies model airplanes, said increased regulation is unnecessary.

“They’re trying to regulate people who already follow rules,” said Siedlecki, 56, a Patchogue resident and president of the Long Island Aero Radio Society and Flying Eagles clubs. “There’s no drone police. Who’s going to enforce it?”

Drone restrictions have passed on a county level. Suffolk legislators voted last July to require owners of camera-bearing drones to obtain permits to fly over county buildings. All flights above county beaches are barred during the summer.

Nassau County has not passed legislation curtailing drones.

In December, the FAA mandated that all users register drones. The agency requires that recreational drones fly below 400 feet and never approach manned aircraft, among other guidelines. Though full federal drone regulation remains incomplete, the FAA said in December that federal rules supersede local laws.

The uneven regulation leaves a void for local municipalities to step in, said Arthur Holland Michel, a director of Bard College’s Center for the Study of the Drone in Dutchess County.

“There’s a blurry line between what counts as privacy protection and what is, in fact, a limitation on airspace,” said Michel. “There’s no rule book on this, so everyone is sort of working in the dark. . . . It’s taken everyone by surprise, and now everyone’s playing catch up.”

FAA rulebook for drone owners

  • Those with devices weighing more than 250 grams must register with the Federal Aviation Administration
  • Fly below 400 feet altitude
  • Keep unmanned aircraft in sight at all times
  • Never fly near manned aircraft, especially near airports
  • Never fly over groups of people, stadiums or sporting events
  • Never fly near emergency response efforts

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