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Local Police Can Enforce Drone Regulations Under New Cleveland Law

<a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/">Flickr photo</a> by Richard Unten

by Nick Castele

Anyone flying drones in Cleveland could face minor misdemeanor charges if they don’t first register the devices with the Federal Aviation Administration. 

And flying within five miles of an airport could also carry city penalties, unless drone operators clear the flight with the FAA first.

That’s under an ordinance that passed Cleveland City Council unanimously Monday night. 

Cleveland’s new laws aren’t meant to supersede the federal government, which regulates airspace. Matt Zone, the chairman of council’s safety committee, said the legislation is meant to give local police the ability to respond to potential violations of FAA rules already in effect.

“People who have drones or bought their kids drones for holidays, or Christmas gifts, the kids can still fly them,” Zone said. He said the ordinance would “create some clarity on what the rules are and what they aren’t.”

Flying a drone within five miles of Burke Lakefront or Cleveland-Hopkins airport would be a fourth-degree misdemeanor on the first offense—unless the FAA grants a drone operator permission.

“Doesn’t mean that you can’t fly it, but you have to let them know,” Zone said, “because they will determine whether or not it’s going to violate any potential airspace in that particular area.”

Much of the city is within five miles of Burke Lakefront or Cleveland-Hopkins Airports—including downtown, nearby neighborhoods and the far west side.

Drone operators who break FAA rules could face thousands of dollars in fines or prison time, the agency warns on its website.

Matt Mishak, an attorney and the owner of a company called Dronewerx, said there’s a reason the FAA might want to work more closely with local police.

“They certainly do not have the staff that could police drone sightings or look into every unauthorized drone use in an expedient manner,” he said. “So what they’re doing is they’re looking to partner with local law enforcement, because they’re the first on the scene.”

An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of Matt Mishak's company. It is Dronewerx, not Droneworks.

Nick Castele was a senior reporter covering politics and government for Ideastream Public Media. He worked as a reporter for Ideastream from 2012-2022.