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California town bans new jetpack rental businesses

Despite high demand for jetpack rentals in California waters, the Newport Beach City Council placed a six-month moratorium on new jetpack rental businesses this summer, dashing the hopes of several would-be operators.

The move has left Jetpack America as the only oceanfront flight school in town for now, cornering the market on what some see as an ever-expanding audience, thanks in large part to video clips posted online and Internet deals that lure new customers to the shores of Newport Beach, an idyllic setting less than 50 miles southeast of Los Angeles.

For $179, beginners can take a brief lesson before trying a 15-minute turn on a water-propelled jetpack. In Newport Beach on summer days, more than 20 customers take flight and the lessons can sell out more than a month in advance.

Dean O’Malley, the owner of Jetpack America, which also operates in San Diego and Honolulu, told The New York Times that he welcomes the competition and would like to see the market expand.

“There’s more than enough demand to go around, both here and in other beach cities,” said O’Malley, whose company also sells jetpacks to individuals and people who want to go into the jetpack joy-ride business. “We want this to be a legitimate part of the industry and the kind of thing you can do anywhere you’d go on a beach vacation.”

But city officials want to explore what requirements should be in place for such businesses, which send people as much as 40 feet in the air on machines that can propel them as fast as 30 miles an hour.

There are similar companies at beaches in New Jersey, Florida and Maryland, where in July the state issued safety regulations for jetpack devices, requiring that customers be at least 16 years old and use a helmet to go more than 10 feet up.

In addition to the outposts O’Malley operates in Hawaii and San Diego, he plans to open a site at an artificial lake near Las Vegas. But so far Newport Beach appears to be the most popular destination — it is the only beach where a couple has exchanged wedding vows while flying.

The popularity has brought complaints — residents complained about the noise, similar to the personal watercraft that have dominated beaches for years. In Newport Beach, city officials wondered whether a rash of injuries would soon come from flying too fast, too high or just too ineptly.