TRENTON – Senator Richard J. Codey announced on Tuesday that he will introduce a package of legislation addressing the increasing safety concerns of the use of drones by consumers, stating that the time to act and protect New Jersey residents is now.
The first bill would require retailers regularly engaged in selling unmanned aerial vehicles to provide notice of Federal Aviation Administration safety guidelines for flying model aircraft, including drones operated for recreational purposes, to consumers. Notice would be in the form of a sign posted at the point where a sales transaction is completed and also provided in writing to every purchaser.
“Given the rise in popularity and use of flying drones and unmanned aircraft and their availability to everyday consumers, we need to ensure that we don’t lose sight of safety as our first and primary concern,” said Senator Codey (D-Essex and Morris). “We cannot wait for a major disaster to happen before we create rules on how they are sold and used in New Jersey.”
The second bill would require geo-fencing technology, which uses GPS or radio frequency identification to define geographical barriers, in drones sold or operated by a private individual or business in New Jersey that would prevent them from operating above 500 feet or within two miles of an airport or protected airspace. Protected airspace would include stadiums with seating capacity of 30,000 or more during regular or post season games of the National Football League and National Collegiate Athletic Association Division One football, and at major motor speedway events, according to the bill.
The restrictions would not apply to law enforcement agencies, fire departments, state, county or municipal office of Emergency Management, the Armed Forces or the National Guard while performing official duties, and would create a fourth degree crime punishable by up to 18 months imprisonment, a fine of up to $10,000, or both, if a person sells or operates a drone in violation of the provisions set forth in the bill.
“Not only does the use of unmanned aircraft create a safety risk for flying aircraft or at heavily populated events, but it could also interfere with rescue operations, such as firefighting operations which often employ the use of helicopters to combat wildfires.”
The third bill is a resolution urging the FAA to enact policies prohibiting drones from flying in populated and sensitive locations, like major sporting events and parades to prevent serious and foreseeable harm in the future.
“Drones have been flown over parades and crashed into stadiums at sporting events. We cannot wait until someone is seriously injured before we tighten the loopholes in the current FAA regulations,” said Senator Codey. “An even scarier thought is that drones can be used as unmanned weapons, so due diligence is in order to prevent unnecessary disasters.”
The FAA recently reported a drastic increase in pilot sightings of unmanned aerial vehicles, from a total of 238 in all of 2014 to more than 650 sightings as of early August 2015. Additionally, between March and November 2014, approximately 25 incidents were reported where unmanned aerial vehicles nearly collided with manned aircraft midair, sometimes requiring evasive action.
According to the FAA Advisory Circular 91-57, recreational use of airspace by model aircraft is generally limited to operations below 400 feet above ground level and away from airports and air traffic. In 2007, the FAA clarified that AC 91-57 only applies to modelers, and specifically excludes individuals or companies flying model aircraft for business purposes. Those flying unmanned aerial vehicles for commercial or business purposes are authorized through the FAA on a case-by-case basis.
Further safety guidelines for recreational use of small unmanned aircraft systems include flying within one’s line of eyesight, during daylight conditions, and outside of five statute miles from any airport, heliport, seaplane base, spaceport, or other location with aviation activities.
The FAA has partnered with several industry associations to promote “Know Before You Fly,” (knowbeforeyoufly.org) a campaign to educate the public about using unmanned aircraft safely and responsibly. While the campaign only outlines guidance, the agency is expected to issue full drone regulations by the end of 2015.
The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association, which governs the state’s high school sports, recently voted to ban drones, including those operated by fans, from all of its events, including games and practices.