Last month the Federal Aviation Administration announced new requirements for drone registration and made a bold statement about its authority, but it’s unclear if Connecticut lawmakers will challenge the federal government when it comes to regulating unmanned flight.
Before Christmas, the FAA released a memo signaling to local and state legislatures that it believes it has complete authority “to regulate the areas of airspace use, management and efficiency, air traffic control, safety, navigational facilities and aircraft noise.”
It reasons that: “If one or two municipalities enacted ordinances regulating UAS in the navigable airspace and a significant number of municipalities followed suit, fractionalized control of the navigable airspace could result. In turn, this ‘patchwork quilt’ of differing restrictions could severely limit the flexibility of FAA in controlling the airspace and flight patterns, and ensuring safety and an efficient air traffic flow.” The FAA also cited case law in the memo supporting its contention that its authority supersedes that of any municipality or state.
Rep. Stephen Dargan, D-West Haven, said he’s not sure yet what the Public Safety and Security Committee will do.
He said there may be challenges to the FAA’s authority, but he hasn’t drafted the legislation yet so he can’t say for certain.
The FAA missed a September deadline to finalize its regulations, so the Dec. 17 memo and the 2015 draft regulations are all state legislatures have to go on. It means there are still technically no federal drone regulations.
According to the National Council of State Legislatures, 26 states have enacted laws addressing drones and an additional six states have adopted resolutions. A total of 45 states considered 168 drone use-related bills in 2015.
Meanwhile, Dargan said it’s likely he will reintroduce legislation that passed the Senate unanimously last year. That legislation focused mostly on law enforcement use of drones.
The bill, which died on the House calendar before being called for a vote, would have required law enforcement agencies to register their drones with the Office of Policy and Management within 30 days of purchase and to report on their use to OPM and the Chief State’s Attorney on an annual basis. The bill also would have allowed other state agencies to use drones, as long as they were registered with OPM as well with a similar annual reporting requirement on usage. It also made it a class C felony for an individual to attach and release tear gas or remotely control a deadly weapon with a drone.
Drone hobbyists were upset that the FAA imposed a $5 registration fee on drone owners.
In a statement last month, the Consumer Technology Association said they don’t oppose the idea of creating a registry, but they “disagree with the decision to impose a five-dollar registration fee — a ‘drone tax,’ which will hamper registration and discourage compliance.”
The CTA said as the FAA finalizes its regulations it wants local and state governments to avoid “unnecessary and duplicative registration proposals.”
According to the CTA, drone sales were projected to increase 63 percent in 2015. Revenue from drone sales was expected to approach $105 million in 2015, which is a more than 52 percent increase from 2014.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal applauded the FAA’s decision to register drone owners.
“Congress must act swiftly, empowering the FAA even further with more authority, tools and resources to safeguard our skies from increasing dangers of these new devices, like requiring clear, enforceable operational restrictions that will keep these drones away from airports, manned aircraft, public areas, and critical infrastructure,” Blumenthal said. “We must also require the installation of fail-safe technology in the manufacturing process, so it’s impossible for owners to misuse these powerful devices.”