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City; SAPD May Consider Regulation Of Drone Use In City Limits

Joey Palacios
Texas Public Radio
San Antonio Police Chief William McManus presents to the San Antonio City Council's Public Safety Committee the current rules and laws on drone usage as set by the state and FAA

The San Antonio Police Department could implement drones into its usage as the city begins to look at potential regulation in their use within the city limits.

SAPD Chief William McManus told the city council’s public safety committee the department would like to use drones in tactical situations like crime scenes, SWAT situations, and traffic crashes.

“Where it would it advantageous or the police working those scenes to get up above the incident and have that type of aerial view,” the chief said. “We would not use it conduct surveillance.”

It’s something SAPD would need funding for.  The Fire department had funding approved for drones last year.  McManus did not have recommendations yet on how drone use should be regulated by businesses or hobbyists.  But it’s something Councilman Mike Gallagher would like to consider when hobbyist drones pose a threat to air craft flying into the city’s two airports.

“If there’s a time that a plane is at its most vulnerable point it’s on landing,” Gallagher said. “And If we’ve got any body is not following the rules that are above 400 feet I could really see some very serious problems for us.”

There are state and federal laws that restrict flying a drone within five miles of an airport without clearance.  David Hook, president of Plane Hook Aviation Services, uses drones for aerial photography.  He advocates for the creation of a safe zones where drones can be flown without large risk.

“A safe haven for them that takes them away from the Stinson [Airport] and the San Antonio International [Airport] and makes the airspace safer for all,” Hook said.

The Federal Aviation Administration and the state already have laws on the books including some passed by the legislature in 2015.  The FAA requires registration of drones, and state law prohibits the use of drones for surveillance purposes any higher than eight feet in the air.