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Chicago City Council Approves Ban On Drones


All I want for Christmas is a drone? That high-tech device is likely going to be under a lot of Christmas trees this year. Of course, drones are facing new scrutiny, among other places, in the city of Chicago, the first city in the country to regulate drones. People are flying drones above backyards, parks, buildings to take pictures or shoot video. But they have caused problems, and so Chicago City Council was declaring certain parts of that city no-fly drone zones. From Chicago, NPR's David Schaper reports.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: Chicago in November has a lot of days that meet the textbook definition of blustery, and this is one of them. So Ryan Twose shows off his homemade quadcopter drone in this forest preserve in the city's northwest side, but he won't launch it up into the high winds.

RYAN TWOSE: No. These are not ideal flying conditions at all.

SCHAPER: Some drones feature stabilizers to help them hold steady in wind, and Twose says most should have a return-to-home function, just in case it gets away.

TWOSE: It happens to everyone. Your drone is going to crash at some point, and you might lose control of it at some point. But again, as long as you're following best safety practices, you know, that shouldn't happen.

SCHAPER: There have been near misses with airplanes and helicopters. Drones have interfered with pilots fighting wildfires. One crashed into the stands at the U.S. Open tennis tournament. Another crashed onto the White House lawn. In Chicago, a drone crashed onto a runway at Midway Airport, while another flew dangerously low over huge crowds at Lollapalooza. So as organizer of the Chicago Area Drone User Group, Twose says he supports the ordinance regulating drone use approved Wednesday by the Chicago City Council.

TWOSE: It sets out some clear rules as to where and when you can operate a drone in the city, and it holds operators accountable for their actions. And I think that those are two of the main parts of the - of the ordinance which are going to be beneficial for all operators.

SCHAPER: The Chicago ordinance is in line with FAA regulations. Drones cannot fly about 400 feet. They must remain within the operator's line of site, and they're prohibited from flying within five miles of O'Hare and Midway Airports. Chicago also outlaws flying drones over schools, churches, hospitals, police stations, and any private property without consent. But while some cities are considering outright bans, Chicago is not. Alderman Scott Waguespack...

SCOTT WAGUESPACK: Really, it's the first bill of its kind in the United States, so we're hoping that as we move forward with the technology changing so rapidly, we'll be able modify it as it goes.

SCHAPER: But some don't want to wait to make changes.

JEFFREY ANTONELLI: The current city ordinance has the potential put to put a damper on hobbyist use.

SCHAPER: Jeffrey Antonelli is an attorney whose entire practice is now drone law. And he says Chicago is making too much of the city off-limits, and the penalties are too severe, but supporters say the Chicago drone ordinance could be a model for other cities. David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

David Schaper is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, based in Chicago, primarily covering transportation and infrastructure, as well as breaking news in Chicago and the Midwest.