Calif. Sen introduces Consumer Drone Safety Act

By Emily Aasand | June 30, 2015

When talking about unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), safety tends to be a number one concern. Senator Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., is joining the fight to protect the public and U.S. airspace by requiring safety features for consumer drones and strengthening the federal laws that govern operations with the introduction of the Consumer Drone Safety Act. The act would put in place safety precautions to minimize the risk of a disastrous mid-air collision or crash to the ground.

Under current law, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration does not have authority to require manufacturers of consumer drones to include technological safeguards. Per Feinstein’s request, the FAA released data on more than 190 incidents where pilot sighted drones over a nine-month period, including more than two dozen near mid-air collisions.

“If we don’t act now, it’s only a matter of time before we have a tragedy on our hands,” said Feinstein. “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 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 education materials to be provided to the consumer. It also directs the FAA to regulate recreational operations of consumer drones outside the programming of a nationwide community-based organization. The 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.

“The reports of dangerous operations and near misses are only increasing,” added Feinstein. “From incidents at LAX to La Guardia to the Golden Gate Bridge, the risk is clear. It is time to close the gaps in FAA’s authorities to protect the public safety and keep our skies safe.”

One of the bill’s supporters is the Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District, who has had multiple drones fly around the infrastructure causing a significant concern regarding the drivers, pedestrians and bicyclist who use the bridge.

“We routinely observe drones flying directly over traffic and the thousands of pedestrians and bicyclists who use the sidewalks,” the District said. “Often, these aircraft are flown by inexperienced hobbyist. Our nation needs a mechanism to effectively, and in an enforceable manner, prohibit the use of these emerged and emerging technologies in a way that does not jeopardize public safety and our critical infrastructure.”

At the AUVSI Unmanned Systems 2015 conference in Atlanta, Mike Glasgow, chief architect for the Lockheed Martin Aviation Services group, described a flight service system in development that collects weather, aeronautical and flight plan information and disseminates it to other systems and people—especially pilots. It includes an alerting service to let pilots know if there are any changes related to their flight plans.

The system enables UAS operators to file flight plans online that could take the place of the FAA’s current Notice to the Airman (NOTAM) system.

“There is a little concern that as UAS growth and operations increase dramatically, the NOTAM system may become overwhelmed by being the repository for flight plans for UAS,” Glasgow said. “Right now, we’re working on integrating with the NOTAM system. By this summer, when you file on the website, it will also create the NOTAM for you.”


For more on the UAS Industry, follow us on Twitter @UASMagazine