Monday, January 11, 2016

FAA's assertion of authority over drones rankles local officials, who cite urban-rural differences

University of Georgia photo
The Federal Aviation Administration is headed for clashes with local and state officials over drones, over which the FAA claims exclusive authority. "Local and state lawmakers, concerned about the safety and privacy risks that drones pose, have been passing rules about the machines at a rapid pace . . . with many of the regulations placing tough restrictions on areas to fly and clamping down on the use of drones to snoop on neighbors," but now the FAA says many local or state rules wouldn't stand up to court challenges because Congress gave it power over aviation, reports Cecilia Kang of The New York Times.

"The intervention of the FAA is now frustrating local lawmakers, who complain that the agency wants them to back off their own rules—even as it is seen as too lenient on drone users," Kang writes. "Lawmakers said the agency’s drone rules did not go as far as many states and municipalities that are explicitly banning flights within cities and over homes, strengthening privacy protections and imposing steep criminal and financial penalties on violators. As a result, some state and city officials are digging in to defend their own drone regulations."

In that battle, local officials are opposed by tech companies, which "want a light touch by regulators to help give their drone efforts the widest possible latitude," Kang reports. "Companies such as Amazon and Google have hired dozens of lobbyists over the last year to visit aviation committees on Capitol Hill, explaining their plans to deliver packages and create entirely new segments of entertainment and sports."

Daniel R. Garodnick, one of the New York City Council members who proposed an ordinance to ban most drone flights in the city, require users to get licenses and insurance, and make violations criminal misdemeanors, says the FAA rules fail to distinguish between urban and rural areas. “New York City is different from the cornfields of Iowa,” he said. “That should be obvious to everyone.”

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