Wildwood, NJ, votes whether to regulate drone use during May-October tourist season

Wildwood drone

Drone pilots visiting the Atlantic coast vacation spot of Wildwood, New Jersey, may have to consult the calendar – and check in with the local police – before sending their craft aloft if a proposed municipal ordinance limiting use of UAV is passed today.

The Wildwood board of commissioners is set to meet this afternoon to decide upon – among other measures on the agenda – whether drone pilots must gain authorization to fly their craft within city limits from May to October. If passed, the ordinance would cover the entire 1.65 square miles of the town on the east coast of Cape Bay.

The reason for the proposed restrictions is simple: Not only does Wildwood’s year-round population of 5,111 bloat to 225,000 people during the tourist season, but so, too are the numbers of drones being flown as weather gets warmer and calmer by both hobbyists and professional operators.

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That is resulting in a problematic mix of too many UAVs in the skies above too many visitors whose safety the leaders of Wildwood don’t want to have to worry about any longer.

“As a result of declining cost, the increased use of drone technology and unmanned aircraft have become increasingly available to personal, recreational, and other potential uses,” Wildwood’s ordinance 1252-23 reads. “Drones and unmanned aircraft can be used to fly above City-owned property in a way that is inherently dangerous.”

If approved as expected, the new rule will require anyone wanting to pilot a drone above Wildwood for work or pleasure to get permission from police during the restricted period. New Jersey law stipulates UAV operation is permitted, but may be conditioned by federal regulations and “flight controls put into place by local governments.” 

At least eight municipalities or counties in the state have passed limits on drone use similar to the ordinance Wildwood is looking to approve.

Local officials say their objective isn’t to rid Wildwood’s skies of Wildwood of drones entirely during the five months of summer, but rather regulate who is operating craft by gauging their reasons for doing so – thereby ensuring myriad UAVs aren’t buzzing haphazardly above the city’s crowded beaches and boardwalk attractions.

“We’re just trying to formalize just who (is) flying drones and when they are flying drones so that public safety is aware of it and they can monitor it as need be,” Alicia Deluca, Wildwood’s director of special events and recreation, told nj.com recently.

Read: Texas law restricting drone use upended as unconstitutional

Given the precedent of other municipal constraints on drone use in the state, it’s unlikely Wildwood’s ordinance risks being overturned by a legal opposition – though that has happened elsewhere. 

Last year a federal court threw out a Texas law restricting UAV use – especially for reporting news – as unconstitutional. That judgement, however, was based on First Amendment rights related to freedom of the press and access to information, not taking aerial vacation videos of popular Atlantic sunning spots.

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