Monday, January 05, 2015

After Naperville drone video, police chief questions use of the aircraft

Local law enforcement authorities are asking questions after a video of an aerial tour of downtown Naperville holiday lights captured from a drone aircraft surfaced online.

Naperville Police Chief Robert Marshall said he is consulting the city's legal department after the three-minute video posted on YouTube by user JPDrone came to his attention. Shot at night, a drone camera flies over City Hall and several downtown streets providing a unique view of seasonal decorations while cars and pedestrians move around city streets below.

"Obviously, if they're flying over a public area, you have to ask if there's any risk to public safety, who's the operator and if he's abiding by the regulations set in place by the FAA," Marshall said. "There was a request from an individual who wanted to fly a drone camera overhead at Ribfest last summer, and we did not allow that."

The YouTube user, JPDrone, is John Pauly, a North Aurora hobbyist who is trying to launch a drone video business. Pauly, who works with two friends and uses two camera-equipped drones, said he has been making the videos in an attempt to get the word out about his startup. His first effort was in Geneva, where he said he was approached by police who were concerned about what he was doing.

"Since then, we always let the police know," Pauly said. "You can't be reckless with it, that's when you can get in trouble." He said he called Naperville police before doing the nighttime video, which he said was filmed from less than 200 feet above the city.

The concern comes at a time when officials are trying to educate the public on the safe use of the unmanned aircraft systems and federal authorities are mulling permanent regulations for the use of recreational and commercial drones.

"This is new technology that has outpaced regulation, and we're at the early stages of a bell curve," said Michael Toscano, President and CEO of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, a nonprofit organization helping spearhead an educational campaign. "Look at the automobile. It took a while after its invention for us to realize we needed speed limits to keep them safe."

Although federal legislation directed the FAA to integrate commercial drones into the nation's aviation system by this September, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is expected to be writing new legislation to overhaul aviation policy and mandates on drones before then.

In the meantime, the FAA's guidelines for non-commercial drones that weigh less than 55 pounds are that they be flown only during the daytime, stay in the operator's line of sight, fly no higher than 400 feet and keep at least 5 miles from any airport, according to information posted at, a site operated by enthusiasts in partnership with the FAA.

Scott Gerami, a real estate broker with Re/Max of Naperville, has been using drone video to market homes since 2011.

"It's a valuable tool for me, so we're going to be happy to comply with whatever rules or licensing are coming in the future," Gerami said. "A shot that's just 20 or 30 feet up in the air gives a totally different perspective of a house, as opposed to a ground-level photograph. I don't fly over or on top of things, over cars or certainly not when there are people below."

In addition to their commercial use for marketing real estate, drones are being used to video high school football games, assess damage following a catastrophe, survey agriculture acreage, and inspect pipelines, power lines and highway bridges.

"Drones can be used very productively for law enforcement if there's a lost child or senior citizen," Marshall said. "If we can get a camera up in the air, it can help locate missing people."

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