The Wilkesboro Town Council introduced a resolution that temporarily bans drones from flying over the Tyson Foods Inc. chicken processing complex in Wilkesboro, NC. The legality of the resolution is being questioned by commercial drone pilot Vic Moss and his attorney.
Until all local and state declarations of emergency have expired, the resolution that the council unanimously passed on Monday prohibits all operations of unmanned aircraft or drones above or within 100 feet of the Tyson processing complex.
Town’s ban of drones flying over Tyson complex
Town officials said, according to the Wilkes Journal-Patriot that a COVID-19 outbreak at the Tyson location led to the arrival of various television news crews, some of whom had been flying drones over the complex.
“As Tyson’s (COVID-19) case count has grown, the publicity around the facility has reached a fever pitch, with multiple news crews trying to get coverage of the facility,” noted Town Manager Ken Noland. “We’re getting more than one drone flying at a time, and we’re concerned we could have an accident.”
Noland added “seeing drones fly over your head just adds to the stress count” of Tyson employees.
Soon after the resolution passed, Vic Moss from Moss Photography and The Drone U emailed Noland, the Wilkes Journal-Patriot, and Mickey Osterreicher, an attorney with the National Press Photographers Association.
“I caution you against enforcing this. If you do, and cite someone, you will find your city attorney defending an indefensible federal court case,” Moss wrote.
Moss also added that according to federal statute, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has sole authority to control the National Airspace System (NAS). No political subdivision, such as a municipality, is allowed to control the NAS without consultation with the FAA.
“It would be in the best interest of the Town of Wilkesboro to remove this ill-conceived ordinance from your books,” Moss said. “Otherwise you’re opening up the town to a very expensive lawsuit.”
According to the newspaper, councilman Russ Ferree said, “The owner (Tyson) needs to take these people (flying drones) to court or find somebody that shoots skeet,” before making the motion to approve the resolution. Ferree seems to be unaware that it is a federal crime to shoot at a manned or unmanned aircraft.
The Wilkesboro Police Department will enforce the ordinance which could potentially be a misdemeanor charge with a fine of up to $500.
“We are extremely concerned when local governments attempt to usurp the powers of the FAA to regulate the national airspace. Stringing together a number of ill-conceived and conclusory assumptions such as ‘impacted the facility and invaded the privacy Tyson team members’ with several ‘whereas’ in order to prohibit [drones] is not only a violation of federal preemption but an abridgment of the First Amendment,” said Osterreicher who has been working with the FAA and law enforcement agencies to promote the safe use of drones by journalists. He added, “We hope that the Wilkesboro Town Council will reconsider their actions before a legal challenge costs citizens tax dollars that we are sure could be better used elsewhere.”
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