Dem wants emergency responders on drone registration panel

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Sen. Jeanne Shaheen Jeanne ShaheenPodesta floated Bill Gates, Bloomberg as possible Clinton VPs Obama signs 'bill of rights' for rape survivors into law Four military options for Obama in Syria MORE (D-N.H.) is pushing for emergency responders to be included in a task force that is crafting a new registration system for drones. 

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said last week that it is setting up a drone registration task force after an increase in the number of pilots who have reported sightings of the devices during flights.

Shaheen said Monday that emergency responders should included in the panel because the number of reports of drones interfering with firefighters who are combating wild fires has increased dramatically in recent months. 

"As you are aware, we have seen a recent spike in reports of drone interference in disaster response efforts, particularly in firefighting efforts," she wrote in a letter to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. 

"These rogue drone operations are a serious threat to emergency responders and rescue attempts," Shaheen continued. "Including the perspective of the public employees who have experienced these dangerous encounters, will ensure that the task force can consider and help deal with these risks." 

The FAA has been working to develop rules for commercial drones for years, but the new registration rules the agency is now proposing would also apply to recreational devices.

Transportation Secretary Anthony FoxxAnthony FoxxGreat Lakes senators seek boost for maritime system Feds create advisory panel for self-driving cars Safety agency falls behind in rulemaking for hazardous materials MORE has said the forthcoming registration system would help to reduce the possibility of midair collisions between drones and planes.

"Registering unmanned aircraft will help build a culture of accountability and responsibility, especially with new users who have no experience operating in the U.S. aviation system,” Foxx said in a statement when the task force was first announced. 

“It will help protect public safety in the air and on the ground,” he continued. 

Shaheen said Monday she has introduced legislation to "address the growing threat recreational drones pose to disaster response.

"My bill would make it a federal criminal offense to knowingly launch a drone for recreational purposes that interferes with fire or disaster response efforts, resulting in a fine and/or imprisonment for up to five years," she said in her letter to Huerta of her measure, which is known as the Wildfire and Emergency Airspace Protection Act. 

"This legislation would give law enforcement officials the deterrent mechanism they need to secure the air space from drone interference and provide greater safety assurance to the emergency responders who put their lives at risk on a daily basis," Shaheen continued. 

Recreational drone users have bristled at the FAA's methods of tracking close calls. They have cautioned that the registration process should not be too burdensome for hobbyists who are using drones for noncommercial purposes.

“The term UAS [unmanned aerial system] has been applied to a broad range of platforms from toys with limited capabilities to large, sophisticated systems that weigh hundreds of pounds," the Academy of Model Aeronautics, which is also participating in the task force on drone registration requirements, said Monday. 

"Registration of UAS that meet an appropriate threshold of weight, capability and other safety-related characteristics makes sense, but it should not become a prohibitive burden for recreational users who fly for fun and educational purposes and who have operated harmoniously within our communities for decades," the model aeronautics group continued.