The first thing a drone-flying enthusiast tells a group assembled to learn about the hobby is not to call them drones.
Ryan Gribble of Kennewick prefers to call them unmanned aerial vehicles.
The name drone conjures up images of a plane firing missiles with its pilot behind a remote control thousands of miles away, he said.
“We don’t necessarily want that associated with our hobby,” he said.
Building a positive image for the aerial vehicles is important because cities are now looking at regulations that would impact their use in city parks. Richland’s Parks and Recreation Commission is putting together rules for their use, and watched a demonstration last week led by Gribble.
Joe Schiessl, Richland parks and public facilities director, is not aware of any problems caused by people flying drones.
“We’re being proactive,” he said.
Gribble, 32, is president of the Multirotor Pilots Association of America, which has about 200 members across the country. He showed parks commission members several models, ranging from a larger one equipped with a GoPro camera, which retails for around $500, to a “nano” copter that costs $120.
The group likes to fly the aerial vehicles at Columbia Park in Kennewick, even racing a model that can go up to 50 mph near the ropes course. They always emphasize safety.
“Something like that, if it hits you, you’re going to know it,” Gribble said.
The parks commission asked Gribble about some ideas for aerial vehicle usage. They wanted to know if it makes sense to allow drone flyers to rent out space in the park when they want to have a flying event.
Gribble does not like that idea.
“Most guys that get into this, aside from a private flying field, don’t want to pay to go fly someplace,” he said.
The best way to deal with people flying the devices is to place signs, informing flyers to go to www.knowbeforeyoufly.org. The website, sponsored by several model aircraft groups, advises people not to fly more than 400 feet in the air, to keep the aircraft within line of sight and to be aware of obstacles in the area.
He also has a bit of advice for everyone who buys an unmanned aircraft — RTFM — Read the Freaking Manual.
“If you don’t know everything about the aircraft, please do not fly it,” Gribble said.
Perhaps most important is staying within Federal Aviation Administration rules. Gribble notifies the control tower at Tri-Cities Airport before he flies at Columbia Park because it is only a few miles from the runways, he said.
Richland has been watching the FAA’s rulemaking process, Schiessl said. The agency announced proposed regulations in February, but they are expected to go through a public review and comment period that will take until 2017.
Parks commission member Jim Buelt isn’t worried about hobbyists like Gribble. He is more concerned about a teenager who gets one of the aircraft for Christmas and doesn’t know what to do with it.
“I’ve gotten a lot more information that I didn’t have before,” he said after Tuesday’s demonstration. “This is something we are going to support as long as it doesn’t jeopardize the safety of our other park users.”
Other cities are at different points in the unmanned aircraft regulation process. Kennewick is working with its insurance provider on issues like whether drone usage needs to be limited to designated areas or if flyers need to have proof of insurance, said Evelyn Lusignan, Kennewick’s customer service manager.
Kennewick hasn’t had any issues or complaints with drones in parks, Lusignan said.
Kennewick police, however, have received complaints in residential areas, including a November incident when witnesses said a drone recorded people in their yards and through their windows near Edison Street and 10th Avenue.
Pasco already bans model airplanes in parks, said Rick Terway, administrative and community services director.
“I’m going to say that probably covers (drones),” Terway said. “To me, it’s just another form of a model airplane.”
Pasco did give permission for the start of the December Cable Bridge Run to be filmed by a drone, Terway said. The city would consider revisiting its regulations if there were interest in it.