As the Senate re-examines S.2658, their version of the 2016 FAA Reauthorization package, drones are once again front and center to the argument as Senators fight to be seen by their constituents as supporting drone safety and their own state interests.
Yesterday, Senators unanimously passed four drone-related amendments to the bill, each showing the individual Senators’ special stake in the industry.
Senator Whitehouse (D-RI) introduced the Drone Operator Safety Act. Despite existing regulations designed to prevent drones from flying within 5 miles of airports, the Act makes it a criminal offense to so so; imposing penalties of fines and/or prison time.
“I am pleased that the Senate has adopted my amendment to protect passenger aircraft from drones,” said Whitehouse in a statement. “Drones are a promising technology, but we need to ensure they’re used safely and responsibly. This legislation sends a clear message: keep drones away from airplanes and airports.”
Rhode Island was one of the first states to establish a committee to evaluate drone integration on a state level; protesters concerned about privacy violations by drones have been vocal in the state capitol.
Senator Hoeven of North Dakota introduced an amendment that would extend the current testing programs from their planned expiration in 2017 to 2022. Senator Hoeven has been working with the airforce to try and bring drone testing to the Grand Forks military airbase in his state.
Senator Inhofe (R-Okla.) offered an industry-supporting amendment that would require the FAA to clarify and report on the new approval procedure for drone operators. Oklahoma has been trying to build their drone industry around the strong aircraft production environment and agricultural sector in the state; earlier this month the senator spoke about an amendment which would allow critical infrastructure to use drones. In that speech, the senator spoke out about what he called “government red tape that is a stranglehold on innovation and delays the adoption of new safety technologies in the aviation sector.”
Finally, Mississippi Senator Thad Cochran introduced an amendment that he said would “streamline drone research efforts.” The Cochran amendment would strengthen the position of the FAA Center for Excellence on unmanned aircraft systems (COE) based out of the Mississippi State University, requiring the FAA to collaborate with the center on drone policy.