Drones may outnumber planes, but where can you fly them?

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CHICAGO — There may now be more drones in the U.S. skies than airplanes.

The FAA says more than 325,000 people registered their drones as of Friday, surpassing the number of piloted aircraft in the skies.

Just last week police arrested a man after he crashed his drone into the 40th floor of the Empire State Building. Thankfully no one was hurt, but experts say if it fell onto the busy streets of New York, it could have caused catastrophic injuries.

Now that man claims he was told by police he cold fly there and thought he was flying legally. The incident sheds light on a bigger issue about regulation. There’s a need for it, but is it helpful if it’s too confusing?

Richard Roh loves to capture amazing views of Chicago with his drone. Last week he was flying at the Chicago Park District’s Northerly Island when a security officer told him he had to stop. It was another incident that demonstrated the confusion among drone enthusiasts and law enforcement about the actual rules.

Federal and local regulations are in place for good reason: a recent aerospace and defense firm’s analysis says that toy drones are a serious threat to bystanders on the ground and other aircraft in the sky.

Most drone enthusiasts are like Roh: they want to follow the rules. After the incident at Northerly Island, he tried to find out more about the park’s specific rules.

The park district told WGN in December that it’s OK to fly on its property, so long as the drone isn’t creating a safety risk and we confirmed today. That’s still the case today — no permit needed.

So it’s unclear why Roh was told to land that day. But as federal and local governments and organizations work to keep people safe and regulate the surging industry, drone enthusiasts just ask to make the rules clear.

Right now there are several sets of rules depending on where you fly. In the city of Chicago, where you can fly is very limited. You can fly at Chicago Park District property as long as there’s no safety risk. Otherwise you can’t fly over any other property you don’t own without the property owner’s consent.

And of course, you have to follow the FAA’s rules: make sure your drone is registered, keep it under 400 feet, within eyesight and not within 5 miles of an airport or heliport without their permission.

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