Schenectady County

Drone over downtown Schenectady draws feds’ attention

The Federal Aviation Administration is looking into the use of an unmanned quadcopter by a local pub

The Federal Aviation Administration is looking into the use of an unmanned quadcopter by a local public access station last Friday to shoot video of the Schenectady County SummerNight street festival downtown.

“The FAA is looking into a report of an unmanned aircraft operation in downtown Schenectady, NY on July 11, 2014 to determine if any federal regulations or airspace restrictions were violated,” according to the statement released Wednesday by the agency that in part regulates the use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).

The Daily Gazette published a story Tuesday about the use of the camera over the city after a reader questioned the identity of the object flying nearby.

According to the agency, the FAA authorizes UAS operations that are not for hobby or recreation on a case-by-case basis. Not all flying model aircraft for a hobby or recreation require FAA approval, but all must operate within FAA guidelines.

The quadcopter was operated by Open Stage Media, Schenectady’s public access, education and government station. Station Manager Zeb Schmidt said his station took care to follow FAA guidelines, although he said, “it’s all kind of interpretive.”

“They have to check on everything, right?” Schmidt said of the FAA. “We didn’t violate anything.”

The FAA allows the use of these types of aircraft for “hobby and recreational” purposes. Schmidt said as a nonprofit, his station does not fall under the ban of using drone-like aircraft for commercial use. And there was care, Schmidt added, not to operate the video tool within five miles of any airport, which is prohibited.

“We are not near any airspace, and we did not fly it high enough to impede any kind of air traffic,” he said. “I’m fairly certain we followed all the FAA guidelines.”

The station manager added there was both a spotter and flier for the aircraft that was flown within “line of sight,” adding it predominantly followed the roof line rather than flying over the crowd.

The FAA said its enforcement tools regarding unauthorized use of UAS range from warning notices and letters of correction to civil penalties.

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