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Drones' Near Misses At Westchester Airport Spark Push For Stricter Rules

Drones flying near the Westchester County Airport have become an increasing problem.
Drones flying near the Westchester County Airport have become an increasing problem. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Flickr user David Rodriguez Martin

WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. – Near misses with low flying drones in the airspace at Westchester County Airport has the senior U.S. senator from New York pressing the Federal Aviation Administration to enforce stricter regulations regarding the policing of the self-piloted quadcopters.

U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) called in January on the federal government to outline regulations that more specifically regulate how drones can be used. He urged action after several pilots narrowly missed colliding with drones in their planes’ path around the Westchester County, John F. Kennedy and LaGuardia airports.

Those operating drones must keep their devices below 400 feet, cannot fly within five miles of an airport, must stay in the user’s sight and must avoid stadiums and people due to privacy issues, according to the FAA.

As drones have become more popular, Schumer is urging the FAA to clearly delineate distinctions between various models.

“With recent instances of drones flying dangerously close to Westchester County Airport, as well as airports frequented by local travelers, like JFK and LaGuardia, it is clear that commercial drone use has crossed over from unregulated to potentially deadly,” Schumer stated. “The lack of clear rules about small drones, what is a commercial versus a hobby drone, and how and where they can be used, is creating a serious threat to New Yorkers’ safety.”

Schumer noted that the FAA has developed drone privacy and usage guidelines, but they are still awaiting federal review before they can be passed into law. Westchester County Airport Assistant Manager Stephen Ferguson has stated that he hopes the FAA regulations are passed sooner than later.

“We are continuing to work with our administration colleagues to finish the rules,” FAA spokesman Jim Peters said in a statement. “It is our goal to get the proposal right.”

Camera drones have become popular items for hobby enthusiasts and personal photographers looking to gain a different perspective of things. Although commercial use of drones is banned, many business owners have used them for the purposes of real estate and wedding photos and video, something that landed U.S. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney in hot water last summer at his wedding to Randy Florke.

Maloney, whose district includes parts of Northern Westchester and Putnam was investigated last year after hiring a photographer to operate a “remote control helicopter” to take photos and video of the wedding, against FAA rules. At the time, his spokeswoman claimed that the congressman was preoccupied with the wedding, not FAA regulation, which drew ire from Nan Hayworth, his Republican opponent in the November election.

“On their wedding day, Sean and Randy were focused on a ceremony 22 years in the making, not their wedding photographer’s camera mounted on his remote control helicopter,” Stephanie Formas said in a statement.

“Federal bureaucracy has stood in the way of FAA drone rules to protect New York fliers’ safety, and it’s time to review and approve the new drone regulations so that our airspace stays safe,” Schumer continued. “We cannot wait for a fatal crash or incident to get this done.” 

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