U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., has introduced the Wildfire and Emergency Airspace Protection Act, a bill intended to keep drones from interfering with disaster-relief efforts.
Shaheen’s legislation would specifically criminalize recreational drone use that knowingly interferes with disaster-relief efforts. By criminalizing drone use under these narrow circumstances, she says, the bill provides law enforcement officials with the authority to protect aircraft engaged in disaster relief – but without discouraging the safe and responsible use of drones.
The bill specifically says it “provide[s] a criminal penalty for launching drones that interfere with fighting fires affecting federal property or responding to disasters affecting interstate or foreign commerce, and for other purposes.”
Shaheen is the lead Democrat of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, which has jurisdiction over disaster relief. Although the Federal Aviation Administration currently has the authority to fine drone operators, it has limited ability and resources to track down users and hold them accountable, according to the senator. The legislation was referred to the Senate Judiciary committee on Oct. 7.
“On far too many occasions, drones have put the lives of first responders at risk as they conduct disaster-relief efforts,” she explains. “And especially as wildfires become more frequent and extreme, firefighters should be able to fight these blazes from the air unencumbered. My legislation would provide a greater deterrent to using drones near disaster-relief efforts and send a clear message that operating them in these circumstances is unacceptable.”