Gov. Brown vetoes CA drone bill

Unmanned DroneExhibiting his penchant for practical wisdom, Gov. Jerry Brown waved off the California Legislature’s attempt to place big new restrictions on drone usage.

Deflating anxiety

“Drone technology certainly raises novel issues that merit careful examination. This bill, however, while well-intentioned, could expose the occasional hobbyist and the FAA-approved commercial user alike to burdensome litigation and new causes of action,” Brown noted in his veto statement, as the Los Angeles Times reported.

Amateur drone enthusiasts have recently taken heat for interfering with emergency responders and posing a hazard to air traffic. But a recent study conducted by hobbyists’ advocacy group the Academy of Model Aeronautics challenged that blanket judgment. “Hobbyists who scrutinized reports to the FAA of alleged close calls with drones found that pilots reported near misses in only a small fraction of the cases,” as USA Today reported. “The study found that of the 764 close-call incidents between drones and other aircraft, only 27 were actually described by pilots as a ‘near miss,'” with pilots taking evasive action just 10 times.

The governor also cautioned that the legislation’s height restriction would criminalize drone use “whether or not anyone’s privacy was violated by the flight,” the Orange County Register observed.

State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, took the defeat stoically. “I am obviously disappointed that the governor vetoed my drone privacy legislation, but pleased the bill launched an important discussion on our privacy and private property rights and drones,” she said in a post to Facebook, according to Wired.

Industry advocates, on the other hand, showed little restraint in hailing the move. “Brendan Schulman, the vice president of policy and legal affairs for drone maker DJI, called the veto ‘a huge victory for drone innovation,'” Wired added.

Big implications

Fearing a slippery slope, prominent names in news media also jumped into the fray, warning Brown of insurmountable difficulties if he signed the bill into law. “The groups, including professional organizations like the Society of Professional Journalists and outlets like CNN and the parent company of the Los Angeles Times, said in a letter Thursday to Gov. Jerry Brown that this restriction will make it incredibly difficult for reporters to use drones for newsgathering purposes,” The Hill reported. The would-be hurdles threatened “the public’s right to receive news,” the letter cautioned, especially during the early moments of breaking news coverage.

Although Brown’s decision was also seen as a big win for companies like Amazon and Google, which are poised to incorporate drones into their businesses, neither of those tech titans have come forward with comment. Significant questions remain as to how they could proceed with possible innovations like drone delivery of packages under current FAA regulations.

Legal uncertainty

The government agency recently turned its attention to laying out strictures that could govern a more drone-heavy future. “The Federal Aviation Administration has proposed rules for commercial drones that would restrict flights to below 500 feet,” as the Wall Street Journal reported. “Above that level is generally reserved for manned aircraft. Under those rules, the bill would have left commercial drone users just a 150-foot ribbon of airspace over much of the state. If companies wanted to fly lower, they would have needed to get permission from dozens of landowners for some flights, which could be a logistical nightmare.”

Brown’s decision increased the likelihood that Washington, D.C., would move faster than Sacramento in getting new rules and guidelines through. “The Federal Aviation Administration is moving toward finalizing rules for drone use, and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration is leading stakeholder discussions to develop best practices for using drones,” The Hill observed.

In the meanwhile, according to the Journal, the FAA has insisted that its regulations preempt state law, a stance that likely tees up judicial intervention. Some 17 states have passed laws of their own setting limits on drone use.

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