Chicago Executive Airport officials: Keep your drone away

So you're getting a drone for Christmas, and you can't wait to rip open the packaging and fly your new toy in the crisp December air.

Suburban airport officials say you should probably think again.

Chicago Executive Airport (CEA) officials have launched a campaign warning residents and people in neighboring communities of the FAA's new drone guidelines and the airport's own suggestions. Staff members have passed out fliers warning residents that flying drones near airports is “highly discouraged and dangerous.”

The airport, which is co-owned by Wheeling and Prospect Heights, also has drone safety information and resources on its website.

The Federal Aviation Administration's guidelines are vague, CEA spokesman Rob Mark says, and the agency is not doing much to get the information out.

“If we depend on the FAA to do all the talking, we could be opening a big problem.” Mark said.

And with prime gift-giving time in full swing, airport officials are making a big push to get the information out before Christmas.

“If you live in the area, please stay away from the airport,” Mark said. “One of those going through a (airplane) window or getting caught in an engine is not good.”

Current guidelines from the FAA strongly discourage anyone from flying a drone within a 5-mile radius of any airport. This means that flying a drone anywhere in the Wheeling area is discouraged.

As of Dec. 21, the FAA also requires each drone to be registered via its website. Registration costs $5 and is valid for three years.

If drone operators don't register their unmanned aircraft systems, the FAA says they can face civil penalties up to $27,500 and criminal penalties up to a $250,000 fine and/or up to three years in prison.

The FAA also advises drones remain in eyesight at all times, and never be flown above 400 feet off the ground.

Mark says he initially thought the FAA would make it illegal for drones to be operated within five miles of an airport.

“Then they changed it to say it's just not encouraged,” he said.

Mark adds that drones have been spotted near the airport recently.

“When I talked to the tower manager last week, he said he's been seeing them for a couple months now,” Mark said. “And coming from all directions.”

When someone working in the control tower spots a drone, Mark says, they can't do much but treat the unmanned aircraft like they would a flock of birds — announcing the location and advising pilots to keep an eye out.

Wheeling Village Attorney Jim Ferolo agreed with a concerned Trustee Ken Brady on Monday that the village could do more to regulate drones.

“From the municipal perspective we have the ability to regulate up to 400 feet,” Ferolo said. “We should look into our ability to restrict it related to flight patterns.”

Ferolo added that drones become a municipal problem when they're flying over private property.

It became illegal to fly a drone within a 5-mile radius of both O'Hare and Midway airports after the Chicago City Council passed an ordinance in November. Chicago also created no-fly zones over private property, schools, churches, hospitals and police stations without consent.

Mark says he distributed drone information to municipal officials in Wheeling, Prospect Heights, Buffalo Grove, Arlington Heights, Palatine, Deerfield, Northbrook and Glenview on Tuesday.

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