Drones over next Warriors parade? Not so fast, says Sen. Dianne Feinstein

When camera-equipped drones hovered above the Golden State Warriors parade in Oakland on Friday, causing some television helicopters to move away from filming the NBA Finals victory celebration, it was the latest sign that unmanned aircraft are becoming a trendy consumer gadget.

But before they crowd the skies, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-San Francisco, wants to set some ground rules. On Thursday, she introduced the Consumer Drone Safety Act, which seeks to “protect the safety of the national airspace system from the hazardous operation of consumer drones.”

Her bill would direct the Federal Aviation Administration to limit how high, when and where private drones can fly, which could include prohibiting or limiting flights over public, spectator-filled events such as Friday’s parade.

Friday’s drone flights at the Warriors party did not lead to any “close calls,” said FAA spokesman Ian Gregor, but “we received some pilot reports of unmanned aircraft flying in the parade area” and so the agency alerted other pilots in the airspace to let them know about the drones. Hobbyists don’t need FAA permission to fly personal drones, Gregor added, but the gadgets must not pose a hazard to manned aircraft or people or property on the ground.

And earlier this week, airplane pilots spotted a drone hovering disturbingly close to Oakland International Airport, about 2,000 feet above the ground, according to news reports.

“If we don’t act now, it’s only a matter of time before we have a tragedy on our hands,” Feinstein said in a written statement Thursday. “Consumer drones are a new technology. They can fly thousands of feet in the air and jeopardize air travel, but the FAA can only regulate them if they are used for commercial purposes. That loophole must be closed. The reports of dangerous operations and near misses are only increasing. From incidents at LAX to La Guardia to the Golden Gate Bridge, the risk is clear.”

Feinstein’s bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, would also direct the FAA to require safety features for new drones, “such as geo-fencing to govern the altitude and location of flights, collision-avoidance software, precautions for the loss of a communications link, a method for pilots and air traffic control to detect and identify the drone, anti-tampering safeguards, and educational materials to be provided to the consumer.”

Feinstein said supporters include the Airline Pilots Association, National Association of Broadcasters, San Francisco International Airport, the Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District and Danville’s hero pilot, Captain Sully Sullenberger, who helped safely land an ailing passenger jet in the Hudson River in 2009.

Above: A drone flies above the Golden State Warriors parade Friday morning near Oakland’s Lake Merritt.

 

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