Commentary. Lawmakers in CA seem to be doing their best to kill the booming drone industry, making CA the worst state for drones in the country.
When the 2016 FAA Reauthorization package was under discussion in the Senate last month, one of the most vocal naysayers was CA Senator Dianne Feinstein, who took the argument that states should have the right to form their own drone regulations.
“Reckless drone use varies significantly in different states and even within a state, which is why we need to maintain the ability for states to set their own standards of drone operation,” said Senator Feinstein. “One in five incidents of reckless drone use nationwide has occurred in California, and densely-populated areas with critical infrastructure like Los Angeles and San Francisco need flexibility to enact rules that address their unique challenges.”
Faced with protest from the drone industry and other stakeholders, Feinstein failed in her effort to eliminate the preemption clause – a clause stating that the FAA has sole authority to regulate drones, in order to avoid a problematic “patchwork quilt” of regulations across the country that would hobble the drone industry.
But the Senator continues on her anti-drone campaign, publishing a news release yesterday titled “Irresponsible Drone Use in California Continues.” In the article, Feinstein attempts to drum up support to force the House to include “drone safety provisions” in their version of the 2016 FAA Reauthorization package, including provisions in the Senate bill granting the FAA authority over recreational drones and the last minute addition – put in hastily after what has turned out to be a totally false report of a drone collision with a British Airways passenger jet – requiring a technological fix for prohibiting drones from airports.
“One in five incidents of irresponsible drone use reported to the FAA in the past two years occurred in California. Drones have stopped aerial firefighting operations, come in close proximity to dozens of airports, including the second busiest airport in the country, and approached commercial planes carrying hundreds of passengers,” said Senator Feinstein. “Our state has the most at stake as Congress works to come to agreement on a final FAA bill. It is critical that the final bill include the Senate’s strong drone safety provisions.”
Feinstein then goes on to cite the FAA’s database of “drone incidents.” The list has already been shown to be problematic – the FAA admits that they have no system of reporting in place for drone incidents. Still, Feinstein has used it freely to justify her position. “1 in 5 incidents occurred in California….
Nearly 80 percent of incidents in California involved a drone that climbed to a dangerously high altitude, at least 400 feet above ground level. More than half of incidents in California involved a drone within five miles of an airport,” the press release states. The fact that clear regulations already exist to deal with all of these situations is apparently lost on the Senator. Clearly, the drone industry has a problem with education, not regulation – both with rogue operators and rogue lawmakers.
Now California’s state lawmakers have taken up the anti-drone campaign, recently removing a provision in their own laws that would have granted ultimate authority over drone laws to the state, discouraging local cities and counties from passing their own laws.
Bill AB-2320, concerning Unmanned Aircraft Systems did contain the following, designed to limit unreasonable regulations – but this section has been struck:
The State Aeronautics Act governs various matters relative to aviation in the state, including, among other things, fostering and promoting safety in aeronautics and establishing only those regulations that are essential and clearly within the scope of the authority granted to the Department of Transportation by the Legislature, in order that persons may engage in every phase of aeronautics with the least possible restriction consistent with the safety and the rights of others. A violation of the act is a crime punishable by a fine of not more than $1,000 or by imprisonment of not more than 6 months, or both.
This bill would specify that, except as expressly authorized by statute, the authority to regulate the ownership or operation of unmanned aircraft is vested solely in the state. The bill would, except as expressly authorized by statute, prohibit a city, a county, a city and county, or another local government entity from enacting an ordinance or resolution that regulates the ownership or operation of unmanned aircraft and from otherwise engaging in the regulation of the ownership or operation of unmanned aircraft.
If the bill stands without this section, it will open CA to a mess of drone regulations differing from city to city and preventing drone business from being able to operate easily outside of their own immediate locale.
CA lawmakers may be so accustomed to being the high tech hub of the country that they take their position for granted – CA currently enjoys the benefits of the drone industry. AUVSI’s recent analysis of Section 333 Exemptions show that most of them have been granted to CA companies. With easy access to high tech talent, abundant VC investment, and miles and miles of desert in which drone testing could easily and safely be performed the state has every advantage to become a hub of the drone industry – except for the critical support of their lawmakers. CA drone companies – and their investors – should make their views known quickly, before other states step in to woo the drone industry with friendlier skies.
Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
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