Burst pipes. Backed-up toilets. Cranky elevators.
Those are the typical types of calls property managers receive on weekends.
On Saturday, Aug. 22, Nick Schwendeman, senior vice president of The Webb Companies, got a call that gave the long-time property manager pause.
Security at one of the Webb Companies' downtown buildings said a drone had hit a cell tower on top of the Lexington Financial Center — Lexington's tallest building — and was on the roof of the more than 400-foot-tall building known by many as "Big Blue."
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"It was fortunate that it landed on the roof," Schwendeman said. "It could have fallen and hit someone ... . It was Saturday probably around noon, at the time of the Lexington Farmers Market when downtown is very crowded. Or it could have hit one of our windows or had fallen and hit a car."
The Federal Aviation Administration is looking into the incident.
An amateur hobbyist flew the drone, Schwendeman said. The man meant no harm, but incidents like this show how potentially dangerous the popular unmanned aircraft systems can be, he said.
The episode came less than a week after Lexington's Urban County Council voted to assign the drone issue to a committee to determine if local ordinances are needed to augment Federal Aviation Administration rules. A committee date has not been set.
Councilman Richard Moloney, who is on the Blue Grass Airport board, asked the council to examine the issue in part because FAA rules say there is a five-mile, no-fly zone for drone users around the airport.
Amateur drone users don't know that, he said.
"I am also concerned about public safety," Moloney said. "We've seen reports of drug dealers using drones to drop drugs in prison yards."
Moloney said a local ordinance to help the FAA police the skies might not be necessary. The council and the city first need to understand the rules regarding drones and address the issue before there are more incidents such as the one at Lexington Financial Center.
Eric Frankl, executive director of Blue Grass Airport, said he was relieved the city was trying to get in front of a growing national problem. Frankl said a local ordinance might not be needed.
He and commercial drone operators say what is needed is more public education on FAA rules.
"Most people don't realize that they could be flying in an area where planes are taking off and landing. There's a potential conflict there and it could be unsafe," Frankl said. "Every community is still trying to figure this out. What is the best way to manage this, and what is the best way to enforce it?"
Frankl said Blue Grass has had no reported problems with drones. But the FAA only recently started tracking drone incidents.
Manfred Marotta, co-owner of Unmanned Services Inc., a commercial drone services company based in Woodford County, said he applauded Lexington for trying to get a handle on the issue.
The company — one of the few in Kentucky with an FAA waiver to operate and the only company with permission to fly within the five-mile, no-fly zone from Blue Grass Airport — has seen violations of FAA rules, he said.
"We are seeing a lot of unsafe practices," Marotta said. "It's like the Wild West."
Frankl said that although drones fly at very low altitudes, they can cause headaches for airplane pilots when planes are taking off or landing.
"They could end up hitting an engine or even hitting a windshield," Frankl said of the drones.
Marotta said he's seen amateur operators lose control of their drones — they fly away and the user can't get them back.
One regional FAA office in Louisville is responsible for enforcing FAA regulations regarding unmanned aircraft in the state. If there is a violation, a warning letter — a cease-and-desist order — is issued. If there are repeat violations, the person or company can be fined, Marotta said.
But Marotta said he didn't think a local ordinance was necessary.
"I think right now what we need is more education and public awareness campaigns," he said. "We just want everyone to operate safely."
Chris Stiles, co-owner of Unmanned Services Inc. and Marotta's partner, said amateur enthusiasts don't understand how dangerous unmanned aircraft can be.
"People think they are toys," Stiles said. "They don't consider it an airplane. Everyone just needs to be educated on what the laws are."
"We want people to be sensitive to the air space and know where they are located," Frankl said. "If they are operating within five miles of the airport, they should coordinate with us."
First amateurs and companies need to understand the FAA rules on waivers and on airports, Frankl and Marotta said.
Commercial companies — those that are producing images and videos for commercial use — need a waiver from the FAA to operate. The drones the companies use are supposed to be registered with the FAA. Commercial companies also are not allowed to fly within the five-mile, no-fly zone unless they have permission — called a letter of authorization — from Blue Grass Airport.
Amateur hobbyists with drones may fly within five miles of the airport but must get permission from the local airport manager, according to FAA rules.
Government entities also must get a waiver from the FAA to operate drones for government purposes such as for law enforcement or search and rescue.
The University of Kentucky does not allow students or amateurs to fly drones on its campus because of its proximity to two helipads, said Jay Blanton, a spokesman for the university. Both UK Chandler Hospital and nearby Baptist Health Lexington have helipads, which are considered airports by FAA standards, Blanton said.
Les Dorr, a spokesman for the FAA, said the FAA doesn't clearly define airport in its regulations on drone use. But the FAA strongly encourages drone operators to treat helipads as airports.
"The best course of action for model aircraft/unmanned aircraft operators is to give prior notice to a heliport if they intend to fly within 5 miles," Dorr said.
Even UK is struggling with all of the FAA rules. According to the FAA database on waivers for government agencies, UK does not have a waiver from the FAA to fly drones for research. Blanton — after some checking — found out the university is applying for a waiver.
The university's research has been done in conjunction with Lexington Model Airplane Club, which is considered an amateur club and is not required to have a waiver from the FAA.
"We have not yet filed for an exemption but will be in the near future," Blanton said.
He said the university had formed a committee to set guidelines for drone use on campus.
"We also likely will move to some kind of event management system where usage is scheduled and regulated," Blanton said. "We hope to have policy recommendations by the end of the semester."
Marotta said the rules can be so confusing and the technology so new, he has seen governments make some major mistakes. But the technology could not only save government money but could save lives. Unmanned aircraft systems have been very useful in search-and-rescue operations, Marotta said.
He and his colleagues met with Lexington officials on Thursday to help the city understand some of the rules regarding drones and how the technology works.
"We've seen some law enforcement agencies pay $40,000 for a drone that will only fly for less than two minutes," Marotta said. "We have a drone that costs half that and can fly for longer periods of time."