U.S. Rep. Jim Langevin (D-RI), Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (R-RI)
Unmanned aircraft operators are being put on notice by U.S. House Representative Jim Langevin (D-RI) and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), who introduced a bill to help protect American air traffic from the misuse of drones.
The Drone Operator Safety Act would make it a criminal offense to fly a drone in a way that poses a safety risk to the operation of a manned aircraft. It would also prohibit operators from flying drones near runways without permission from the airport operator or air traffic control tower. Violators would be subject to a fine and/or prison time.
“While drones provide exciting opportunities for hobbyists and have great commercial potential, they can pose serious risks to other aircraft,” said Langevin. “This bill makes it clear that drone operators must be responsible for the safe operation of their vehicles to ensure the protection of air travelers in America.”
“Drone operators who interfere with commercial air space put Americans’ safety at risk and give drones a bad name. This bill would crack down on that dangerous behavior and hold bad actors accountable,” said Whitehouse.
According to Earl Lawrence, Director of the FAA’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Office, pilots are reporting an increasing number of drone sightings, with 1,800 such reports in 2016, up from 1,200 the year before. While the FAA has the authority to levy civil penalties on individuals operating drones in a manner that puts people and property at risk, there currently is no criminal provision that directly addresses unsafe drone operation.
The legislation was included in the Senate Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization, which passed the Senate last year.