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Joey BunchJoey BunchSeptember 5, 20173min70
Just when drones were going legit as a tool of public safety, a rubbernecker reminds folks why the jury is still out on which side of the public safety debate the tiny aircraft hover. Last weekend regular-sized helicopters battling a 800-acre Big Red Park wildfire in northern Routt County were grounded because of an unidentified […]

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Adam McCoyAdam McCoyJuly 14, 20175min38321

Heading out for a sight-seeing adventure through the lens of a drone can be an exciting prospect, but the burgeoning hobby has proved to be a pain in the you-know-what for airports, emergency personnel and local municipalities.

Members of the Denver City Council’s Safety, Education and Homelessness Committee got a crash course this week on the potential havoc unmanned aerial vehicles can wreak.

Of course, drones have many, many beneficial uses, but John Putnam — an attorney with Kaplan, Kirsch & Rockwell who frequently advises major cities and airports, including Denver, on airspace issues — painted a bleak picture of the potential dangers drones pose and the rather fluid landscape of drone regulations.

The largest exposure a city like Denver likely faces is drone incidents at its airport, Putnam said.

“The best information suggests that if a drone were ingested into an engine of a 737 coming into DIA, there is a substantial chance it could take down that flight,” Putnam said.

Putnam said the Federal Aviation Administration documented about 1,800 cases of drones flying too close to airplanes last year — a 50 percent increase from the previous year.

Adding to the nightmare, Putnam posed the question: “What happens when a drone flies over Mile High on game day and releases a packet of something white? There will be panic and chaos.”

Picture a drone entering airspace where aircraft are aiding firefighters battling a wildfire. Or an inexperienced drone pilot endangering others by flying erratically. And there are even weaponized drones to ponder.

Should the city decide to start regulating drones at the local level, Putnam said it would have to go beyond an ordinance.

“This is a very complicated area that requires many layers of city investment,” he said noting the city’s drone policy would need to include training for law enforcement, public education about the legal use of drones and coordination between cites, airports the FAA and other jurisdictions among other aspects.

Putnam said enacting regulations at a local level can prove sticky. With the FAA retaining authority over all airspace above 500 feet and any airspace needed for aircraft to land and take off, there’s often a question of legal authority.

The regulatory landscape regarding drones is in flux, and it would be challenging to determine where FAA and local authority begins and ends.  

“We are lacking guidance from the federal level; we are lacking court decisions on this issue, so we’re in a period of trial and error,” he said.

“The laboratories of democracy that are our cities and counties and states are trying a bunch of these ordinances,” he said. “They will be challenged, some of them will succeed, some will fail.”

Putnam noted how many major cities started to regulate drones like Los Angeles, as well as some Colorado cities, including Telluride.

Putnam said many current laws already cover concerns many have about drones. For example, existing Peeping Tom laws might cover privacy concerns, and it is still illegal (outside of the narrow window for legal use of force) to shoot someone, whether it be by handgun or weaponized drone. It might be a matter of “optimizing” current regulations, Putnam said.


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Joey BunchJoey BunchJune 7, 20174min1011
drones for firefighting
(AP file photo)

 

Look, up in the sky! That’s what they could be saying in Chaffee County and the San Luis Valley as the state begins to study the use of drones to respond to wildfires.

Rep. Jim Wilson, who sponsored House Bill 1070, thinks stepping up the use of unmanned aircraft could save the state money by alleviating its reliance on regular planes in dangerous flying conditions — and lives by improving response times and strategies.

The study won’t cost taxpayers a dime, but rather allow the state to accept gifts, grants and donations for the pilot program on non-piloted aircraft. National Geographic reported last year that drones are being used in Nebraska to drop fireballs for controlled burns,  the system of destroying overgrown vegetation that can fuel wildfires.

“More and more money is being invested in drone technology, this bill studies how that new technology can help Colorado fight wildfires,” Wilson said in a statement. “Drones have tremendous potential to survey ground and relay data without the cost of manned aircraft and the risk of putting pilots in the sky.

“I am grateful for the strong bipartisan support and very excited to see the outcome of this study.”

The bill was sponsored in the Senate by Kerry Donovan, D-Vail, and Don Coram, R-Montrose. The governor signed the bill this week to authorize the study by the Department of Public Safety’s Center of Excellence for Advanced Technology and Aerial Firefighting.

The center itself was created by the legislature three years ago to research, test and evaluate new and existing technologies that could help fight fires from above.

The results of the drone study will be presented to the Wildfire Matters Review Committee and the House and Senate judiciary committees by Sept. 1, 2018.

“This legislation will help Colorado maintain its leadership role in aerospace nationally and internationally, having the second largest concentration of aerospace industries in the country,” Wendell Pryor, director of the Chaffee County Economic Development Corp., said in a statement. “The legislation, with widespread industry support and its specific focus on public safety, positions the state as a worldwide leader in aerial firefighting in a proactive way to utilize the technology.”


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Ramsey ScottRamsey ScottJanuary 27, 20164min36
For now, drone pilots don’t have to fear that the Colorado General Assembly will in any way clip their wings. On Tuesday, Rep. Paul Rosenthal, D-Denver, pulled a bill he sponsored that aimed to restrict the use of aerial drones near airports and prisons. The proposal drew criticism from criminal defense attorneys and members of […]

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