A public hearing has been set for 11 a.m. Aug. 17 in the commission chambers at the Lincoln County Courthouse to hear the first reading of a proposed county ordinance that restricts the operation of unmanned aircraft (drones) in Lincoln County under certain circumstances.
District Attorney Dan Hooge said the impetus of the idea comes from Nellis Air Force Base.
According to Commissioner Paul Mathews, some ranching and farming operations are starting to use unmanned aircraft to take high altitude photos of their property, to see where areas are that might need more maintenance, or even to locate cows or horses that might have wandered far from the herd.
Many published reports have already noted experts are pointing to agriculture as the most promising commercial market for drones because the technology is a perfect fit for large-scale farms and vast rural areas where privacy and safety issues are less of a concern.
Farmers, researchers and companies are developing unmanned aircraft systems equipped with cameras and other sensors to survey crops, monitor for disease or precision spray pesticides and fertilizers.
Drones are being used presently overseas in agriculture, particularly in Japan and Brazil, and the possibilities are endless.
In March of this year, the Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration proposed a framework of regulations that would allow routine use of certain small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) in today’s aviation system, while maintaining flexibility to accommodate future technological innovations.
A press release the from the Department of Transportation said the FAA proposal offers safety rules for small UAS (under 55 pounds) conducting non-recreational operations. The rule would limit flights to daytime and visual-line-of-sight operations. It also addresses height restrictions, operator certification, optional use of a visual observer, aircraft registration and marking and operational limits.
Hooge said the Air Force has expressed concern, “that people, instead of trespassing, will drive up to the boundaries of restricted area and fly drones over their property and take pictures that way.”
He added the Air Force is asking the county to pass an ordinance, and then if a person is using a drone, have them cited by the sheriff, “like we do with regular trespassers on private property or Air Force property.”
The ordinance would apply to all private property, Hooge said, unless the local ordinance would be limited to just the Air Force. “It would not apply to regular BLM ground or county property and roadways,” he said.
Varlin Higbee noted the Lincoln County Airport Authority has been approached about the possibility of doing some testing on new drone models in Lincoln County and wondered what restrictions there would be?
Hooge said the proposed ordinance would state that a person has to have the intent to “violate the expectation of privacy or harassment” to make it against the law. “If you don’t care, and no one is annoyed by it, it’s not breaking the law. But if your intent is go in there and take pictures you should not be, then it would be a clear violation. The county has authority up to 500 feet elevation, then it goes to the FAA.”
County Fire District chief Rick Stever said the flying of drones has been known to cause a halt to wildfire fighting efforts in some states, including Nevada. He said people flying drones and trying to take pictures have grounded FAA helicopters or fixed wing aircraft. “It can bring down, or extensively damage one of those aircraft. So, if drones are detected over a wildfire area, all the air operations get shut down.”