Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., has introduced the Consumer Drone Safety Act, which, according to the senator, would protect the public and U.S. airspace by requiring safety features for consumer drones and strengthening the federal laws that govern their operation.
Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., co-sponsored the bill. Specifically, Feinstein says, the Consumer Drone Safety Act proposes to put in place common-sense safety precautions to minimize the risk of a mid-air collision or crash to the ground.
The bill proposes the following:
- Defines “consumer drones” as civil unmanned aircraft manufactured for commercial distribution and equipped with an automatic stabilization system or a camera for navigation. This definition does not override Section 336 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, and model aircraft flown for recreational purposes would continue to be subject to the safety guidelines of a community-based organization rather than to operational regulations of the FAA.
- Directs the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to regulate recreational operations of consumer drones outside the programming of a nationwide community-based organization. These regulations shall include a maximum height for flight, the weather and time-of-day conditions for flight, and any areas or circumstances where flights may be prohibited or limited, such as near airports, in the flight paths of manned aircraft, in urban areas or over public events where spectators are present.
- Directs the FAA to require safety features for newly manufactured consumer drones, such as geo-fencing, to govern the altitude and location of flights, collision-avoidance software, precautions for the loss of a communications link, a method for pilots and air traffic control to detect and identify the drone, anti-tampering safeguards, and educational materials to be provided to the consumer.
- Requires manufacturers to update existing consumer drones to meet these requirements where feasible, such as through an automatic software update.
- Allows the FAA to exempt particular types of consumer drones from any requirement that is technologically infeasible or cost prohibitive if other operational precautions allow that type of drone to be operated safely.
Under current law, the senator notes, the FAA does not have the authority to require manufacturers of consumer drones to include technological safeguards. There are also no clear federal rules on when, where and under what conditions recreational users can operate drones, she adds.
“If we don’t act now, it’s only a matter of time before we have a tragedy on our hands,” Feinstein comments. “Consumer drones are a new technology. They can fly thousands of feet in the air and jeopardize air travel, but the FAA can only regulate them if they are used for commercial purposes. That loophole must be closed.”
The bill is supported by the Air Line Pilots Association, the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, the American Association of Airport Executives, the National Association of Broadcasters, San Francisco International Airport, the Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District, and Captain Sully Sullenberger.