HomeAs Drone Law Lifts Off, Who Rules Rockland’s Sky?

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For the past year and a half, Vinny Garrison’s been running a growing business shooting aerial photos and videos across Rockland — everything from weddings to the cranes hovering above the Tappan Zee Bridge.

He’s got a pair of drones — he calls them quadcopters — that he launches for jobs like real estate shots, and he just shot Clarkstown’s fireworks display.

But the Nanuet resident’s worried the county’s new drone law could make him — and even hobbyists who fly radio-controlled devices — law-breakers.

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The measure passed the Rockland Legislature in June and will go into effect sometime in the next few months after County Executive Ed Day harshly criticized it but didn’t shoot it down.

The devices will be limited to the user’s private property, and private or public property with permission of the property owner. The law also prohibits the use of drones within 100 feet of the jail, government buildings, schools and houses of worship.

The law was drafted by Rockland Legislator Jay Hood Jr. after Sheriff Lou Falco said he’d heard reports about drones being used to smuggle contraband and weapons into jails around the country.

Apparently any local police department will be able to enforce the law. Two calls to Falco about how his department, or any other, might handle an unmanned aerial vehicle that’s gone astray wasn’t returned.

Garrison says the new restrictions are vague and unnecessary because of existing laws and Federal Aviation Administration regulations.

If he’s taking aerial photos for a real estate job, his quadcopters inevitably hover over a neighbor’s property, or maybe the Hudson River. Are these violations, he wonders?

“What if you’re flying recreationally? You’re basically criminalizing their hobby … it doesn’t delineate between commercial and non-commercial users,” says Garrison, who runs Flying Films NY.

Hood has brushed off criticism of the law’s intent.

“I believe it should cover anything that flies by remote control because anything that flies in the air is inherently dangerous if flown around people or property,” Hood told me last month.

The growth of the device’s popularity may be outstripping the government’s ability to regulate it. The FAA has adopted interim guidelines and a final version could be ready by year’s end, said John Flynn, an assistant chief with the Yonkers Fire Department who’s conducting research in this area as it relates to homeland security.