California bill one of many state bills that aim to regulate drones

The California assembly has passed a bill that restricts drones to above 350 feet of private property

A California bill that restricts flying of drones to above 350 feet (107 meters) over private property is just one of several state bills in the U.S. that aim to regulate various aspects of flying the unmanned aircraft.

Florida, for example, has passed a law that prohibits the use of a drone to capture images of private property or of its owner, tenant or occupant with the intent to conduct surveillance without written consent if a reasonable expectation of privacy exists.

Arkansas has, meanwhile, passed a law that prohibits the use of drones to secretly take images for voyeurism.

In the wake of reports of video-shooting drones interfering with firefighting activities last month, a couple of other bills were introduced in California, including one to indemnify emergency personnel in the event of damage to unmanned aircraft in the course of their work.

In 2015, 45 states have considered 156 bills related to drones, according to data from the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The states are pushing ahead with legislation even as the Federal Aviation Administration has proposed rules for the regulation of drones earlier this year. It said the rules would allow for the routine use of certain small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) but flights should be limited to 500 feet altitude and no faster than 100 miles-per-hour.

Separate FAA rules for model aircraft used by hobbyists also limit the altitude to which drones can be flown to 400 feet.

But the California bill, if it becomes law,  could deal a stiffer blow to the aspirations by companies like Amazon.com that are aiming to make deliveries using drones.

The California bill, which was passed by the assembly on Monday and referred to the state Senate, would hence limit drones to an altitude of between 350 to about 500 feet, depending on type of user,  if the FAA rules are passed without the changes some commercial operators like Amazon.com have proposed.

The need to ask permission from property owners to fly below 350 feet could mean, for example, that delivery companies would have to take permission of neighbors ahead of making a delivery to a particular location.

State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, a Democrat from Santa Barbara, sees drones raising privacy issues, despite their obvious benefits. The bill clarifies that the rules pertaining to trespassing also apply to entry by remotely operated aerial vehicles on private property, she said in a statement earlier this month.

The new bill has the potential to further confuse UAS users and stifle economic growth in California, said Brian Wynne, president and CEO of the nonprofit Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI). "The Supreme Court has ruled that property rights do not extend infinitely into the sky. Only the FAA can regulate airspace; states and municipalities can’t," he added in a statement.

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John Ribeiro

IDG News Service
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