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Drone Operator Safety Act Introduced in Congress

WASHINGTON—A pair of representatives from Rhode Island have introduced a new piece of legislation that seeks to protect against the misuse of drones.

The “Drone Operator Safety Act,” which was introduced by Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), would make it a criminal offense to fly a drone in a way that poses a safety risk to the operation of a manned aircraft. In addition, it would prohibit operators from flying drones near an airport’s runway without permission from the airport’s traffic control tower. Operators in violation of these proposed laws would be subject to fines and/or prison time.

The FAA has reported that pilots are seeing an increase in drone sightings, with 1,800 reports occurring in 2016, up from 1,200 in 2015. Past FAA regulation on drones allowed for civil penalties, but this would be one of the first criminal provisions that deals with unsafe drone operation.

“While drones provide exciting opportunities for hobbyists and have great commercial potential, they can pose serious risks to other aircrafts,” said Langevin. “This bill makes it clear that drone operators must be responsible for the safe operation of their vehicles to ensure the protection of air travelers in America.”

The legislation was included in the Senate Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization, which passed the Senate last year.