Once worried about drones, Naperville now sees benefits

About two years ago, a drone flew over downtown Naperville and captured images of the city at night, downtown lights twinkling, all awash in a holiday glow.

When the video shot from the drone made its way to YouTube and caught the attention of city officials, it was enough to spur wide-ranging public safety concerns about privacy invasions and drones falling from the sky.

How times have changed. Once concerned with drones, now the city is embracing them.

The Naperville Fire Department bought a drone in May 2015, just four months after the holiday lights video spurred concerns.

And now the city's economic development agency, the Naperville Development Partnership, has contracted with a startup drone video company to produce two promotional spots highlighting the city as a destination for tourists and corporations.

The agency hired Taylor Fauley, 22, and his Naperville-based business Diamond Head Productions, to shoot and edit the videos using his DJI Phantom 3 drone, which he bought for about $500.

"He can get in and around places to really showcase Naperville," Christine Jeffries, Naperville Development Partnership president said. "A drone can go a whole lot of places a regular camera can't reach."

Fauley, a Naperville native who graduated this spring from Illinois State University with a degree in construction management, took his drone flying about 35 times to shoot clips for the videos, which each run about 2½ minutes.

Every time he'd shoot a new location, like the Millennium Carillon, his high school alma mater Neuqua Valley, the shops on Jefferson Street downtown or a corporate building along the I-88 corridor, Fauley said his process went like this: Drive to the site, take 10 minutes to develop a flight plan, then use a transmitter - with joysticks like a 1990s Nintendo controller - to launch the drone.

The Federal Aviation Administration's Part 107 rules for drone operators require pilots such as Fauley to always fly below 400 feet, always keep their drone within their line of sight, stay 5 miles away from airports, and never fly directly over the head of anyone who doesn't know the drone is there.

The last of those regulations is the most difficult to follow, Fauley said. When he shot aerial footage of the Healthy Driven Naperville Marathon and Half Marathon, there were runners below.

But he says they were never directly under his drone because he framed the shot at an angle and stayed ahead of the pack.

"I ended up backing away at the same rate that they were running," Fauley said. "You stay away from people that way and just go with the flow."

Naperville Mayor Steve Chirico said some of the city's original worries about drones arise from the thought that not all operators are as diligent as Fauley. Plus, two years ago, the FAA hadn't yet come out with thorough rules and licensing procedures.

"As that technology came about, there wasn't a lot of regulation," Chirico said. "No one knew what the rules were. There were concerns about privacy, safety, all kinds of things."

Even before the FAA's updated drone rules became effective Aug. 29, Naperville police Cmdr. Robert Lee says no one in the city reported an injury from a drone. During the past two years, there has been only one minor drone complaint other than the holiday lights video.

Immediately after the new drone rules took effect, Fauley said he studied them and applied for a license. He saw a "big window of opportunity" to start a business and capitalize on the craze.

"Because of the fact that I have the Part 107 license, I do know where I can and cannot go," Fauley said. "I've done everything by the book."

Fauley's promotional videos of Naperville are set to go live on within the next few weeks. Jeffries said they've already been shown at conventions the development partnership attends.

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