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Can You Fly Drones in Zilker Park?

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Zilker Metropolitan Park in south Austin is a 350-acre park that hosts major events like the Zilker Park Kite Festival and the Austin City Limits Music Festival.

It’s a must-see part of any Austin trip, but can you fly your drone at the park?

You can fly drones in Zilker Park. Commercial pilots must obtain a permit from the Austin Police. Pilots are expected to follow the park’s regulations and FAA rules when operating.

This guide will present all the information you need to know to operate a drone in Zilker Park.

Make sure you keep reading, especially if you have a trip to Austin planned soon!

Can you fly drones in Zilker Park? #

Drones can operate in Zilker Park, subject to temporary flight restrictions such as when a major event like the Austin City Limits occurs.

Recreational and commercial pilots can operate here, but commercial pilots must have a permit.

The Austin Police Department issued this Training Announcement in 2017 that outlines its policy on drones:

“Officers should not focus their enforcement efforts on drones flying safely in public places, or over private property where the drone operator has permission to operate. There are a number of different scenarios, however, where drone operation:

  • (1) presents a potential hazard to public safety;
  • (2) violates private property rights or private interests;
  • (3) or interferes with legitimate law enforcement operations. It is in these situations that officers should consider enforcement action. Officers who encounter drones being used in these situations should use the title code ‘Drone Involved #4208’ for tracking repeat offenders.”

In Section 1, Unsafe Operations of Drones in Public Places, the Austin Police Department has the following rules:

  • “Enforcement will be primarily focused on the unsafe operation of drones over or near events with a large number of people, such as sporting events, races, outdoor concerts, and other special events. Officers may also respond to reports of unsafe drone operation in other situations. Examples might include flying a drone:
    • near buildings, people, motor vehicles, or animals;
    • outside of the operator’s line of sight;
    • near overhead lines; or
    • in the vicinity of other aircraft
  • Officers may enforce the following City Code provisions – violation of which is a class C misdemeanor–when they observe unsafe drone operation in public places, including drones operating over crowds:
    • Section 13-1-14(B)(3)(Prohibited Acts): ‘The operator of an aircraft may not: (3) operate an aircraft in a careless or reckless manner that creates a danger to another person’s health or property.’
    • Section 13-1-13 (Hazards to Air Navigation): ‘If requested to do so by an airport official or police officer acting at the direction of the air traffic controller or the director (of the Aviation Department), a person in the corporate limits of the city must immediately remove a hazard to air navigation, including a kite, balloon, model aircraft, radio-controlled aircraft, or other similar device or object.’
  • If an officer observes a drone operating within 5 miles of the airport, they may contact an air traffic control or aviation department official to determine if the flight is authorized. If requested by the airport official, an officer may require a drone operator to land a drone.
  • Officers should not: Enforce City Code provisions, including § 13-1-11, that require an airman’s certificate, or a certificate of airworthiness, for operation of a drone.”

In Section 2, Drones on Private Property, the rules are as follows:

  • “State law prohibits individuals from using drones to surveil private property or certain critical public infrastructure.
  • Texas Gov’t Code Chapter 423 creates an offense (class C misdemeanor) if a person uses a drone to ‘capture an image of an individual or privately owned real property…with the intent to conduct surveillance on the individual or property captured in the image.’ TEX. GOV’T CODE § 423.003(a).
  • It is a class B misdemeanor for a person to disclose, distribute, or display an image or video taken in violation of section 423.003 TEX. GOV’T CODE § 423.004. It is a defense to prosecution if the drone operator destroys the images captured upon being informed that capturing the images violates the law. Regardless, police officers should NOT destroy images captured by a drone.
  • Texas Gov’t Code Chapter 423 also makes it an offense to operate a drone over a ‘critical infrastructure facility’ (e.g., electrical power facility or a water treatment plant) at an altitude of less than 400 feet, or in a manner that interferes with the facility, unless the person has prior written consent or (if a commercial drone) consent from the FAA to operate in the airspace.”

Section 3, Drones Interfering with Law Enforcement, outlines the following rules:

  • “Officers should NOT detain a drone operator who is safely using a drone to record police in a public place, performing law enforcement duties, from a safe distance that is outside any cordoned-off or restricted area, UNLESS officers can articulate specific facts to demonstrate that:
    • the drone operator is in violation of one of the laws cited above;
    • the drone operator is interfering with or impeding a law enforcement operation in violation of Texas Penal Code § 38.15; or
    • the drone operator, by flying the drone in the vicinity of an emergency or accident scene, is interfering with law enforcement, fire-fighting, or rescue efforts and refuses to comply with the direction of the on-scene authority (including police officers in control of the scene) or air traffic controller, in violation of Austin City Code § 13-1-16
  • Examples of when a drone may be interfering with, disrupting, or impeding law enforcement or emergency responders include:
    • the drone is operating inside of a cordoned-off crime or accident scene that is not accessible to the public;
    • there is a police or emergency helicopter in the vicinity;
    • the drone is reasonably believed to be capable of streaming live video (this belief may be developed by interviewing the operator, prior experience with the operator, or by relying on facts developed by other officers, who, for example, observe the live internet stream) and is monitoring a police pursuit, a SWAT deployment, or a search for a fleeing suspect; or
    • the drone is flying so close to officers or other emergency responders that it is disrupting operations or placing the officers or emergency responders in danger drones can disrupt or pose a danger to officers or other emergency responders with their lights, noise, or proximity (drones may lose control and their rotor blades can cause injuries).
    • Officers making an arrest for interference or impeding should be able to articulate specific facts to demonstrate how the drone negatively affected emergency or law enforcement operations.”

Section 4, Seizure of Drones as Evidence, states that:

  • “Drones may be or contain (typically in the form of stored video) evidence of a crime. Accordingly, in appropriate circumstances, they may be subject to search and seizure by police.
  • Officers should adhere to ADP Policy 306 when searching or seizing a drone.
  • Officers who reasonably believe that a drone is evidence or contains evidence of a crime must get permission from their supervisor before searching or seizing a drone.”

By the way, in Texas, a Class B misdemeanor can lead to fines of $2,000, 180 days in jail, and possibly both. A Class C misdemeanor results in a fine of $500 and no jailtime.

Austin, Texas rules and regulations for flying a drone #

The above rules are just scratching the surface. Let’s go over Austin’s drone usage laws.

Limit drone usage around bats and wildlife #

The Austin Police Department has these rules for using a drone around bats:

“Under state law and the State of Texas Administrative Code Title 5, Subtitle B, Chapters 63.101, 65.151 and 152 and 42.1095 – the following applies as noted in law:

  • The operation of drones/unmanned aircraft are hazardous to wildlife/the bat population. Under State Law, Wildlife may NOT be photographed by a drone/unmanned aircraft without State of Texas authorization. Bats may NOT be hunted (killed) or harmed.
  • Except with permits issued by Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (the department), the use of drones to hunt (kill), drive, capture, take, count or photograph any wildlife is unlawful. This includes located wounded animals as well. Permits required from the department are an Aerial Management Permit (AMP) and a Land Owner Authorization (LOA). Department rules are adopted under the framework and guidelines of the Federal Airborne Hunting Act.”

Avoid no-fly zones #

While you can use a drone in Zilker Park, the following parts of Austin are no-fly zones:

  • Texas State parks unless with prior permission
  • Texas Capital Grounds
  • Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium
  • Power stations and dams, including Tom Miller Dam and Mansfield Dam
  • Circuit of the Americas
  • Camp Mabry Military Base
  • Austin-Bergstrom International Airport

Further, Texas state law HB 1424, enacted in 2017, prohibits pilots from flying over critical infrastructure, detention facilities, and correctional facilities.

HB 1481 adds to the list, including targeted facilities such as rubber or chemical manufacturing facilities, gas or oil pipelines, nuclear electric power generation facilities, natural gas generation facilities, electric generation facilities, and alumina or petroleum refineries.

You can receive a Class B misdemeanor for violating the rules in HB 1481!

Don’t forget to follow all FAA guidelines when operating a drone in Zilker Park, including:

  • Do not fly your drone more than 400 feet from the ground
  • Have a valid drone license
  • Register your drone if it weighs more than 0.55 pounds or flying it commercially
  • Do not fly at night unless with prior permission
  • Do not operate your drone over crowds or moving vehicles
  • Only use your drone in clear weather

Zilker Park in Austin permits drone use, making it a fantastic place to visit and take in some amazing sights.

Make sure you follow local ordinances and FAA guidelines to have a fun, safe experience!

» MORE: Can You Fly a Drone in Galveston?


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