R.I. Roundtable Discussion Focuses on Drone Threats to Manned Aircraft


U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., recently hosted a roundtable discussion on the potential threats of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) and laser pointers to aviation.

Congressman Jim Langevin; state officials; representatives of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies; executives from the Rhode Island Airport Corp.; pilots; and other stakeholders participated in the conversation at T.F. Green Airport in Warwick, R.I.

“Flying has never been safer,” said Whitehouse. “But new threats to aviation safety are emerging. Pilots are reporting a big increase in the number of incidents of laser pointers being aimed at cockpits and drones flying dangerously close to aircraft. I led the charge in Congress to pass a law protecting our pilots from laser pointers. Now it is time for Congress to pass my Drone Operator Safety Act, which would create new penalties for drone operators who recklessly endanger aircraft.”

The senator’s recently introduced legislation would make it a federal offense to use a UAS to disrupt the operation of a manned aircraft. The Drone Operator Safety Act follows legislation Whitehouse introduced in 2011 that made pointing a laser pointer at an airplane cockpit a criminal offense. That bill was signed into law and is now used by the U.S. Department of Justice to prosecute laser pointer incidents around the country, says the senator.

“While affordable recreational drone operation is an exciting technological development, we must figure out a way to resolve the serious risks to airplanes that occupy the same airspace,” said Langevin. “We want drone operators to be able to enjoy their hobby while still respecting the safety issues and privacy concerns that come with being a responsible drone pilot. Our world is ever-changing, and the old rules for civil aviation need adjustment for the improvements in technology we have today.”

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