"Drone Industry Launches End of Session Attempt at Pre-Emption," CA Cities Advocate, Aug. 16, 2016.

The National League of Cities issued a report in August 2016 on cities and drones. The League published an article on the report in CA Cities Advocate on Aug. 18.

A dramatic increase in the use of recreational drones in California during 2015 led to multiple instances of drones interfering with fixed-wing firefighting aircraft, as well as police and air ambulance helicopters. In response, the League and the California Police Chiefs Association co-sponsored SB 168 (Gaines) to address dangers posed by unmanned aircraft systems, or drones, operating in flight-restricted airspace during an emergency. Vetoed by Governor Brown due to the fact that it also created new misdemeanor penalties, SB 168 would have provided first-responders with immunity in the event they damaged or destroyed a drone that was interfering with their emergency operations. The issue, however, at the state and federal levels, is far from dead.

The Consumer Technology Association, a trade group, estimated that 400,000 drones would be sold in the United States during the 2015 holiday season. Given the many safety hazards drones pose and the current lack of comprehensive regulations and enforcement provisions to make such regulations meaningful, a number of states — including California — may take the initiative and pursue enforcement or other legislation, notwithstanding potential conflicts with federal law.

Western City, the League’s monthly magazine, in February 2016 published a comprehensive article in outlining the issues drones pose for cities. “Drones: A Growing Hazard in the Absence of Tighter Regulations,” features extensive background on the topic.

Federal Aviation Administration Action

The League on Jan. 15 issued a comment letter to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on its newly proposed recreational drone regulations, FAA Interim Final Rule: Registration and Marketing Requirements for Small Unmanned Aircraft, Document ID FAA-2015-7396-0001. These were released mid-December. The FAA has until June to revise the regulations in response to comments received during the comment period.

The new regulations require owners of any drone or UAS purchased after Dec. 21, 2015, to register before their first outdoor flight. Owners and operators must pay a registration fee of $5.00. In addition, drones will have to display a unique identifier, which is a registration number issued by the FAA. These new regulations, while helpful, may not go far enough to adequately address the hazards and potential misuse of drones.  For example, registration is largely voluntary, and for drones purchased after Dec. 21, 2015, registration is not required at the time of purchase or point of sale. Though registration is now required prior to operating a drone, it is unclear how such a requirement will be enforced without a point-of-sale registration requirement or a requirement for online registration with the FAA before an online drone sale can be completed. This raises doubts about the effectiveness of the FAA’s response, given the widespread abuse of this technology over the past two years.

The League's letter cites multiple incidents of the abuse of drones endangering public safety and commercial aviation in calling for stronger FAA registration protocols. In the wake of the FAA regulations, the League will seek opportunities to support legislation strengthening the existing registration requirement with a mandatory point-of-sale component, as well as other potential reforms improving accountability on the part of drone operators.

© League of California Cities