Federal government grounds Lakewood’s drone after initial flight

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The federal government is grounding the city’s new $1,200Phantom 2 Vision drone, at least for the time being.

Lakewood purchased the drone, which includes a high-resolution camera lens, for help keeping an eye on storm water discharges and erosion along Lake Erie.

The city’s engineering department got the drone, which resembles a child’s remote-controlled helicopter, airborne only once before getting a call from the Federal Aviation Administration.

“As you know, here in City Hall, seldom is heard a discouraging word,” Mayor Mike Summers told City Council Tuesday. “But, unfortunately, Engineer (Mark) Papke received word from the Federal Aviation Administration that our drone, following its maiden voyage, has been grounded pending federal authority to fly it.”

Papke said he received a call from an FAA employee who had read a news story about Lakewood’s purchase of a drone. The employee, who did not return a reporter’s call, told Papke the city needs to obtain a certificate of waiver or authorization to fly the drone.

The city plans on filling out the necessary forms online for the waiver, but because of the complexity of the information requested and the regulations involved, his department may need assistance from a certified pilot, Papke said. The city has some pilots on staff, he said.

FAA spokeswoman Elizabeth Cory said the agency is looking at how to safely integrate the use of drones into airspace. However, the agency rejects the term drone, instead calling the tiny aircraft “unmanned aircraft systems.”

“Drones are more military,” Cory said.

“We understand UAS’s have some very positive applications, but we want to ensure that this is being used safely,” she said. “We need to ensure the safety of people in the air and on the ground.”

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