California Eyes Sweeping New Drone Regulations That Threaten The Fast Growing Industry

A new bill making its way through the California legislature may sharply curb the burgeoning commercial drone market by banning many of the ways that drones are currently used.

The new law would restrict the flight of the devices below 350 feet without permission of the property owners or legal entities. Senate Bill 142 has already passed the California Assembly by a wide margin and will now head to the state senate.

Yet advocates for the technology say such moves could kill a blossoming industry and put the country behind others in advancing drone technology.

Potential uses for unmanned vehicles go beyond the recreational hobbyist to include delivery services and emergency response to remote locations.

Amazon and Google have are both developing the technology and logistics for such delivery services, but have failed to comment on any pending legislation. The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) estimates that the state could lose up to $14 billion over the next 10 years if the bill passes.

Proponents of the new bill have defended it as a privacy issue, and the bill’s text specifies that operation of drones over private property will require “express permission” of the property owner. Because most drones operate between 200 and 500 feet, supporters of the bill say operating a drone delivery service would not be affected, as the drones could merely fly above the 350 foot limit until they arrived at their destination.

Regardless, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) may supersede the authority of a California bill as it moves to issue national regulations on drones next month.

The FAA is looking to answer the push for national regulations, with 46 states already having considered drone bills this year, and increasing pressure from industry lobby groups.

There are FAA guidelines currently in place for recreational use, including a 400 foot maximum altitude limit and maintenance of line of sight, but commercial use is only allowed with express permission from the FAA.

With industry giants like Amazon and Google holding back their drone ventures pending such legislation, there will be a frenzy of activity in the industry once rules are finally passed.

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