Drone-lovers to Gov. Brown: How low can we go?

In the latest chapter in the ongoing public debate over how low is too low for amateur drone operators to do their thing, California Gov. Jerry Brown has axed a proposed bill limiting flights to 350 feet or more over private property without the permission of whomever owns the land below.

Why? Because the legislation could make things tough on otherwise non-threatening drone devotees and even the FAA-approved commercial drone user.

The Ventura County Star reported that Brown’s action means the end of Senate Bill 142 by state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara. That legislation would have created a trespassing offense for not-so-high-flying scofflaws:

Brown’s statement says the act would be a crime “whether or not anyone’s privacy was violated by the flight.”

While drone technology raises novel issues, Brown said in his veto message the bill “could expose the occasional hobbyist and the FAA-approved commercial user alike to burdensome litigation.”

The bill was meant to protect Californians from peeping Toms.

Drones “should not be able to invade the privacy of our backyards and our private property without our permission, ” said the bill’s author, state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara.

The bill was approved by the California Senate on Aug. 27.

In his bill-killing memo, Brown ended with “Before we go down that path, let’s look at this more carefully.”

Drone industry groups were overjoyed by Brown’s actions, saying the bill would have dampened innovation and killed jobs in an industry that many feel is on the verge of — sorry — taking off. As Dronelife.com recently reported, “No one is going to argue the claim that drones are becoming increasingly more popular by the day. You can’t go 24 hours without coming across some new drone announcement online or seeing a drone on TV. The major reason drones are taking off is because they aren’t just weapons and they aren’t just toys anymore; they’re tools. Tools that can be used to make money.”

The article went on to serve up some gee-whiz numbers for the growth in drone use among civilians and businesses:

According to a recent study by Business Insider Intelligence projects a compound annual growth rate of drones to be 19% for non-military applications vs. a 5% growth for military use.


Brown’s move also was cheered by the National Press Photographers Association, according to a post in USA Today:

Rules and laws governing drones have become contentious because of reports of sightings near passenger planes and aircraft fighting wildfires in Southern California. Government regulators and industry advocates are trying to strike a balance that protects flying safety without harming the development of an innovative industry.

In 2013, Oregon passed a law prohibiting the flying of drones up to 400 feet over private property without permission.

Meanwhile, the safety-focused FAA is still working on coming up with “comprehensive rules for small commercial drones that would allow flying up to 500 feet in the air within sight of the pilot during daylight hours. The rules are expected to be completed in mid-2016. Guidelines for hobbyists call for staying below 400 feet.”

Above: Google presented this visual to NASA this year showing its vision for an automated air traffic control system for drones that relies on cell phone networks, sensors, drone-to-drone communications and other technology to track the vehicles and keep them from crashing into one another.


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