No Drone Zone—Learning to (Find a Place to) Fly

April 2016 View more

We’ve all heard and seen a lot lately about drones, and it’s likely you know people who have bought them to take spectacular pictures, or just try out a new hobby.

Maybe you’d like to purchase one, too. Easy enough—you can go online and find many stores that will sell you one. The toughest part, especially for a Naperville resident, is finding a place to fly it.

Tougher Laws

In the last year, as the popularity of recreational drones has skyrocketed, governmental agencies, from the federal to the local, have taken steps to announce new rules or clarify current regulations on drones—more officially, unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). For example:

  • The FAA issued a variety of regulations last year including a requirement that all drone owners register with the agency or get fined.
  • Earlier this year, the Naperville Park District publicly reminded residents that it doesn’t allow drones in its parks or near its facilities.

“You have the FAA coming out with its rules, the states with their rules, and local jurisdictions with their rules,” said Sanford Kolinek, a former longtime Naperville resident who has piloted drones for three years. “We’re going to have many layers of complexity and people are not going to know where they can fly or not fly.”

Responsible flying

Scott Gerami, a Naperville realtor, developed an interest in drones in 2010 well before most hobbyists or businesspeople.

“When I first started, I knew what I wanted to do with drones,” said Gerami, who has photographed dozens of houses that he’s listed for ReMax. “You couldn’t really buy them. Now you can go to Amazon and eBay, but back then, they were not as widely available.” Instead, Gerami learned how to build his own drone from scratch by watching YouTube videos.

Gerami, who flies drones recreationally as well, received media attention for his use of drones to obtain one-of-a-kind home listing pictures. He takes video for two to three minutes at about 20 to 30 feet off the ground at each house, then takes still photos from that for his listings.

Now that many more realtors have adopted the same practice, Gerami has upped his game—he’s creating panoramic shots of homes by taking 20 to 40 photos from the air and using software to put them all together.

For Kolinek, buying a drone was a substitute for purchasing a conventional advanced camera. “I bought mine three years ago to get into aerial photography,” said Kolinek.

Both Gerami and Kolinek say they practice responsible flying and avoid issues with neighbors and others. However, it’s the less responsible drone owners who have given the hobby a bit of a bad reputation and have compelled governmental agencies to crack down.

Where can you fly?

The places that would be most conducive to drone flying—the land around airports or in park district or forest preserve lands—are off-limits to drones.

The Naperville Park District and the forest preserve districts of Will and DuPage counties all say that they don’t have drone-specific regulations, but are limiting drone flying based on long-standing limits on model aircraft.

“Drones are subject to the same regulations that other model aircraft are, which is that they may only be used in areas specifically set aside for them and by permit,” said Tom Wakolbinger, Chief of Police for the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County.

Naperville has designated Springbrook Prairie as a place that can be used by model aircraft. For more information, visit:

Will County and the Naperville Park District do not have designated areas, although the park district says “requests for short-term, special event permits may be granted on a case by case basis by the Park District’s executive director.”

Enforcing No Fly Zones

Park and forest preserve police are in charge of enforcement in those areas. As for the rest of the city, it’s up to the Naperville Police Department.

“Our No. 1 concern with drones is protecting the community and making sure everyone feels safe,” said NPD Public Information Officer Commander Jason Arres. “Our No. 1 concern is the safety risk.”

Rules regarding drones are largely set by the FAA, Arres said. They include:

  • You cannot fly higher than 400 feet
  • Do not fly near emergency response efforts, like fires
  • Do not fly over groups of people
  • No flying over stadiums and sporting events

If an owner is found in violation of these rules, as well as others that can be found on FAA-approved sites such as, the police will report the drone owner to the FAA. According to Arres, the police department also can cite a drone user if that person’s conduct endangers the safety of others.

The department has received only 10 complaints about drone use in the last 18 months, including someone who saw a drone flying overhead and reported it, an individual who found a drone that had crashed, and even an owner who reported that his drone was lost and apparently crashed.

Flight plans

During a recent trip to Arizona, Gerami was pleased to see a sign of progress as it relates to UAS regulation—a large open space was reserved specifically for people to fly drones.

Gerami, who is on the Illinois Unmanned Aerial System Oversight Task Force, would like to see more such zones in Illinois and elsewhere. “Why not give us an opportunity to fly someplace safe, where we won’t interfere with air traffic and fly over people’s houses?” said Gerami.

The task force’s role is to provide oversight and input in creating comprehensive laws and rules for the operation and use of drone technology within Illinois, subject to federal oversight and regulation, according to the state. The group will issue recommendations to the governor and General Assembly in July.

In the meantime, Kolinek says drone owners ought to have an easier way to figure out what the rules are for a particular city, county or forest preserve before they can fly.

“I hope somebody develops one central website so that when you’re going to go out flying, there’s an app on your phone, you let it know where you’re going to fly and it will relay to you all the ordinances for that locale. That would be ideal,” said Kolinek.