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Seattle councilmember urges FAA: 'Protect our airspace'

Last week's incident in which a man flew a drone around the Space Needle has the Seattle City Council looking at new polcy.
Last week's incident in which a man flew a drone around the Space Needle has the Seattle City Council looking at new polcy.
Michael Rusch via YouTube

A week after a tourist flew a hobby-store drone near the Space Needle, the Seattle City Council is considering new legislation to send a message: Put drone laws on the books now.

Councilmember Bruce Harrell said last Tuesday's events, where a tourist used his drone to circle the top of the Needle, bring to light many concerns for Seattle residents, including safety and preservation of the city's iconic skyline.

"I like a nice skyline, and I don't like a lot of objects flying in a beautiful sunset," Harrell told USA Today Tuesday.

Harrell says he's frustrated with the lack of movement from the Federal Aviation Administration to regulate consumer-level drones, adding that the explosion of relatively inexpensive RC aircraft without firm enforcement is putting people at risk.

"The problem is, ... if they are not doing their job, which is protecting the air space, then what is the city to do?" Harrell said. "I don't want to say I'm anti-drone, but I'll say they raise a lot of health and safety concerns that we are very concerned about."

The statements comes in the wake of a widely reported case of an Amazon employee who launched a Phantom 2 drone equipped with a GoPro camera from his hotel-room window to shoot video of a sunset over the Space Needle. Early reports said the craft crashed into an observation-deck window, but were later discredited. Seattle police confronted the man, who apologized, but without FAA regulations to back up any charges, they had little on which to hold him.

The FAA is investigating the incident.

Harrell said the council is considering a policy directive that would urge the FAA to speed its process in developing firm drone law. The agency has been working for more than a decade to develop rules to cover drones but has been hampered by the scale of the job and delays in the process.

Last week, the agency extended a 30-day comment period on proposed non-commercial drone use an additional 60 days at the request of the nation's largest RC-aircraft hobbyist organization, Academy of Model Aeronautics. Commercial drone use is currently considered banned by the FAA, but recent court rulings have thrown out penalties levied against commercial and non-profit entities using drones, with judges citing that the FAA's rules are only guidelines are not enforceable.

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