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Droning on
Regulating tech against safety and privacy risk

03/03/16
By Ryan Lessard news@hippopress.com



 What does it take to legally fly a remote-controlled aerial drone? If a bill working its way through the Senate passes, it might require an FAA license, written permission to fly over private property, keeping the aircraft in line of sight and maintaining liability insurance.

 
SB 459
The bill is sponsored by state Sen. Sam Cataldo of Farmington, who said it’s meant to address public safety.
“The main thing is it’s not a toy,” Cataldo said.
Cataldo says he is primarily worried about the worst-case scenarios that state statute is, at present, unprepared for.
“If it hits a plane, what do you do? Who’s responsible?” Cataldo said.
But his bill needs a lot of work, according to Cataldo. There was an error in the maximum height allowed for drones in flight — the bill says it’s 100 feet, but Cataldo says that should be set at 500 feet — and the Federal Aviation Administration recently finalized a number of its rules surrounding drones. For example, an operator needs to notify the nearby airport if they are flying within five miles of the airport, and operators are not allowed to fly over nuclear power plants. So, in an effort to make sure it aligns with federal law, Cataldo’s bill was placed in interim study. He expects it will come out of study by the end of March and thinks he’ll have a bill ready to vote on.
 
More drone bills
Meanwhile the House is working on three separate bills that would create new drone regulations, the most comprehensive of which is HB 602. Rep. Neal Kurk is the main sponsor.
“A major new technology is coming into existence through teenagers, who think of these things as wonderful toys, through government, which looks at these as possible ways to provide more information to people and save money, to the military, which looks at these and has been using them as weapons, to commercial interests including real estate, who view drones as opportunities to make money or provide better services … to hobbyists, who think these things are wonderful opportunities to see the world [differently],” Kurk said.
Kurk emphasizes the need to allow the commercial and casual drone operators to continue doing what they need to have fun or make money, but he has a number of concerns that differ from Cataldo’s and the FAA’s. 
“The FAA is interested in safety. My bill is interested in protecting public interest and personal privacy,” Kurk said.
Two other bills in the House would prohibit drones from flying over state prisons and the warrantless use of drones by police to collect evidence. Kurk says both of those things are included in his bill as well as a requirement to fly higher than 250 feet over private property unless the operator has written consent from the property owner.
“You might like to over-fly my house, but I’m not sure you should be allowed to do that, especially if you use the drone to peep into my bedroom window or [are] using the drone to look at my teenage daughter who’s sunbathing in the backyard,” Kurk said. 
The bill also makes it illegal for individuals or government agencies to use any drones equipped with lethal or non-lethal weapons. 
Cataldo, for his part, doesn’t have anything against drones. He says he’s actually a fan.
“I built model planes as a child and I continue doing it today, and I was a pilot too,” Cataldo said. “I’ll pick up a drone someday, I know I will. Soon, very soon.” 





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