Valdosta Daily Times

March 19, 2014

Drones over Valdosta?

It's a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a .... drone?

Kay Harris
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — With Moody Air Force Base a fixture in the community for more than 50 years, residents of Lowndes County are accustomed to hearing various noises coming from the sky. Over the years, the base has hosted fighter jets, helicopters, C-130 transport planes, and A-10s, so buzzing aircraft is not typically a concern.

But when a local landowner received notification from the City of Valdosta that they wanted to fly drones over the property, it stood out as a rather unusual and unique request.

An email from the City’s Public Information Officer Sementha Mathews in late February requested permission to fly drones, or “remote-controlled aircraft,” over Kinderlou Forest, a semi-private residential community located outside the city limits.

The email states, “The mayor (Valdosta Mayor John Gayle) has signed a contract with CGI communications to update these community videos that welcome people to our community by introducing them to local attractions. The remote controlled aircraft flies just above the ground to capture a different angle for our viewers.”

The drone is described as a remote-controlled camera with four propellers that carry a camera.  The list of rules by CGI for operation of the drone are that it never flies over people, never flies closer than three miles from an airport, never flies more than 400 feet, and cannot fly in strong wind.

Mathews said, “The contract we have with CGI is to renew our community videos on our website which is designed to attract people and businesses to our beautiful community.”

She also stated that the company was “not able to get the footage we wanted a few weeks ago, but the company will be back out in April to complete the gathering of video necessary to complete the update to videos.”

The CGI website states that the company works with many cities and counties across the country for a variety of promotional services, including videos, but there is no mention of the drone technology on the site.

Considering that the majority of the Kinderlou Forest development is

private homes, the landowner states they have no intention of allowing the city to fly drones over the community due to privacy concerns for the residents.

Mathews said CGI provides the videos to the city at no cost.

“Per the agreement, CGI visits our city once or twice to collect the footage and then develops the videos around pre-approved scripts.  Businesses in our local area will have the option of sponsoring these videos and being linked to the site.  This was not a new project, but a renewal of a project that has been working well to promote our community,” she said.

Mathews said companies like Google “map the world without permission” and at least the city asked property owners before allowing CGI to fly the drones over to take photos and video.

When asked why the city didn’t take still photos and video rather than use drones, Mathews said it is new technology that the company wanted to use. The final product will incorporate still shots and standard video along with the aerial video.

“We have filmed at VSU, Langdale Park and Freedom Park, Valdosta Country Club, SGMC, and Valdosta City Hall with the appropriate authorization.  We don’t plan to get any more aerial footage, as the rest of the project will be shot with traditional cameras mentioned above.”