The Delaware River and Bay Authority (DRBA) is applauding a recently enacted bill regarding the use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) over critical infrastructure in the state.
Signed by Gov. Jack Markell, D-Del., on Sept. 6, the bill “creates the crime of unlawful use of an unmanned aircraft system,” as well as “supersedes the authority” of local governments to regulate the technology, according to a text of the bill.
Specifically, the legislation, through its final amendments, “prohibits the operation of a UAS over any incident where first responders are actively engaged in protecting public safety,” as well as “prohibits the operation of a UAS over events at which more than 1,500 people are in attendance.”
A first offense is an unclassified misdemeanor, and a subsequent offense is a class B misdemeanor, unless human injury or property damage occurs; in that case, it is a class A misdemeanor.
In addition, the bill preempts local governments from regulating drones: “Only the state may enact a law or take any other action to prohibit, restrict or regulate the testing or operation of an unmanned aircraft system in the state,” the bill says.
The DRBA is a bi-state agency (encompassing Delaware and New Jersey) that operates the Delaware Memorial Bridge, Cape May-Lewes Ferry System and Forts Ferry Crossing, as well as five regional aviation facilities.
As both an operator of critical infrastructure and a potential end-user of UAS technology, the DRBA says it has been closely monitoring the growth of UAS operations over the past several years.
The agency believes H.B.195 strikes the proper balance between ensuring safe operations and promoting growth of the industry.
“The UAS industry is developing within Delaware and the Mid-Atlantic region. Innovators in this industry will understand if states take reasonable action to augment FAA regulations and protect first responders,” says Scott Green, executive director.
“Unfortunately, some states have allowed so many different regulations that start-ups and new technology companies can barely keep them straight. With the passage of H.B.195, Delaware has stepped forward to clarify and support safe and proper UAS operations. State preemption of local ordinances will ensure that UAS operators who comply with FAA rules will have only one set of rules for flying within Delaware,” he continues.
Steve Williams, director of airports at the DRBA, adds that the signing of the bill is a “very positive action for both the aviation community and the economic development community.”