Washington—The Senate today passed the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill, which includes several provisions authored by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).
While Feinstein supported the bill, she strongly opposes language that would block state and local drone safety laws and has secured a commitment from the chairman and ranking member of the Commerce Committee, Senators John Thune (R-N.D.) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), to work with her to address the issue when the bill is negotiated with the House of Representatives.
Recreational drone safety
The bill includes drone-safety provisions mirroring those in the Consumer Drone Safety Act, introduced last year. The first would give the FAA clear authority to issue guidelines for when, where and how recreational drones are used. The second would require the installation of technological safeguards, including restrictions to prevent drones from flying too high or too close to critical infrastructure.
“Reports of near-misses between consumer drones and aircraft have steadily increased as the number of drones sold has topped 1 million,” said Senator Feinstein. “Drones have also come close to critical infrastructure like the Golden Gate Bridge, disrupted firefighting efforts and breached the White House gates. Just this week there were reports of a drone striking a plane approaching Heathrow Airport in London. Safety rules are urgently needed, and the inclusion of key provisions to require manufacturer safeguards and give the FAA clear authority to set rules for recreational use is a big step forward.”
Of the 1,500 drone safety incidents reported nationwide between April 1, 2014, and January 31, 2016, one in five occurred in California. An analysis by Feinstein’s office showed there were incidents in at least 70 California communities.
State and local authority over drones
The bill passed by the Senate includes broad language that expands federal preemption of state or local laws relating to drones. Senators Thune and Nelson had agreed to accept an amendment offered by Senators Feinstein, Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), David Perdue (R-Ga.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), and Mike Lee (R-Utah) to strike the preemption section.
However, the amendment was included in a package of amendments that was blocked for unrelated, procedural reasons. If the preemption language is struck from the bill, the FAA and state and local interests would address these issues on a case-by-case basis over time, as has been done for manned aircraft for decades.
Feinstein said: “I look forward to working with Senators Thune and Nelson to strike the preemption language from the final bill. There is broad, bipartisan consensus that state and local governments should be able to protect their communities from reckless drone use. This is especially important for California, which includes some of the most densely populated areas in the country and a range of critical infrastructure. The federal government simply cannot set commonsense rules for every city, county, park or school in the country.”
Reckless drone use varies significantly state by state. An analysis by Feinstein’s office showed that more 40 percent of incidents occurred in just three states: California, New York and Florida.
Ontario Airport transfer
The bill includes a provision to allow the transfer of Ontario International Airport (ONT) from Los Angeles to Ontario authorities to be completed.
Feinstein said: “This provision is one of the final steps in resolving a longstanding dispute over the control of the Ontario Airport. With the airport returning to local control, I’m hopeful it can now be revitalized and reclaim its role as a driver of economic growth for Inland Empire.”
In August 2015, local officials announced an agreement that would transfer ownership of the airport back to Ontario from Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA). As part of that agreement, Ontario agreed to pay LAWA $120 million over 10 years to compensate Los Angeles International Airport for funds it collected from passengers to pay for a new terminal at Ontario Airport in the 1990s.
Ontario expects to pay this through passenger facility charges from future passengers. However, under current statute, such transfers between airport authorities are not permitted. The provision amends the statute so Ontario can transfer this money, thereby completing the agreement.