City council hears from police chief on aircraft in city
By LYNETTE SOWELL
On Tuesday evening, the Copperas Cove city council heard from Chief of Police Eddie Wilson about the possible regulation of manned and unmanned aircraft in the city limits.
Wilson gave a presentation and sought council’s input on what to do regarding the use of manned aircraft in the city, specifically non-emergency use.
“We have a pilot that has a company in our community that was giving helicopter rides out of the city. That created a bit of a stir and influx of complaints to the police department, wanting to know if we could stop it or shut it down.”
Wilson said if there was a noise ordinance issue, the police could take care of that, but there was nothing to regulate the practice of regulating liftoff in the community for helicopter rides.
“We also had another event that happened at the H-E-B parking lot a while back, and that also raised complaints. It was part of the grand opening for one of the businesses there. We received complaints that they’re taking off and landing next to the gas pumps, ‘it’s not safe, there’s not a ground crew.’”
He said the purpose of the workshop was to present data and hopefully receive direction from the council for city staff to address via an ordinance or permitting process.
Wilson also showed a photo of the “first ever recorded traffic stop on a helicopter,” when an officer patrolling in the House Creek area saw a helicopter land without an emergency occurring, so the officer approached the helicopter. The pilot claimed to have permission to land on the school property.
Wilson said he called CCISD deputy superintendent Rick Kirkpatrick, who said he was not aware of the helicopter pilot being permitted to land on the property.
“That consent could have come from anybody,” Wilson said.
The same went for the landing and taking off from the H-E-B Plus! parking lot.
“They got consent form somebody, but it probably wasn’t from the people supposed to give it,” Wilson added. “If there was damage or injury, I can guarantee they will come back on us and say, ‘Why did you let it happen?’”
Wilson said currently, there is no city ordinance or permitting that regulates the use of manned or unmanned aircraft in the city. He said the city of Huntsville approves temporary sites with a special events permit.
He gave definitions of heliports and helistops, the second of which are temporary designations for manned aircraft.
With discussion for both manned and unmanned aircraft, Councilman George Duncan, a license commercial pilot and registered drone user, commented that FAA regulations prohibit flights within a five-mile radius of an airport. He said Relax Inn on Business 190 is exactly five miles from Fort Hood’s Gray Army Airfield/Killeen airport. Anything else in the city eastward falls within that five-mile radius.
“My underlying concern is that we need to make sure it’s done safely.”
Where unmanned aircraft discussion was concerned, the Federal Aviation Administration already has regulations in place for drone ownership and operation.
The council directed Wilson to work on a special event permit for helicopters and manned aircraft within the city, and he will bring that back to the council along with recommendations consistent with FAA regulations.
Councilman Jay Manning said, “They deal with enough rules. I probably will not be in favor of it, unless someone changes my mind.”
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