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Striking a balance on drone regulation

We’re living in a brave new world of technology, and the possibilities really are endless. 

One of the most exciting developments is Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), or drones.

{mosads}You’ve probably seen one yourself, definitely on TV, or maybe first-hand, flying around your neighborhood.

If you’re like me, you think about how drones could make life easier. Drones could be used for deliveries, photography, agriculture, search and rescue, security, and more.

Should you need to file an insurance claim for damage to your house, a drone can come photograph your roof where a tree nearly took out your garage much more quickly and safely than a person can climb up there.

And if you’re in the business of feeding America, like many of the farmers I represent in Minnesota’s 2nd District, drones can be used to inspect hundreds of acres of fields and tell you which areas need a little more water, or which crops are ripe and ready to be harvested. Again, that saves you valuable time otherwise spent inspecting by hand. 

The drone business is an exciting one, and it represents the cutting-edge of technology. America must remain the world-leader in technology and aviation. Both give us a competitive edge which very few other countries possess, and they not only make our country stronger and safer, but keep well-paid jobs and high-tech industries here at home.

But as this brave new world unfolds, we need to make sure that it does so in an appropriate way- because no one wants drone use to negatively affect our lives.

That’s why I’ve introduced the Drone Innovation Act, H.R. 2930. My bipartisan legislation seeks to set out a balanced framework for the legitimate needs of interstate commerce and the constitutional requirement for local control.

We need state, local and tribal stakeholders involved in the decision making process to protect your constitutional rights; the right to property and the right to privacy. As we envision a sharp uptick in the various uses of drones, we have to take into account that mistakes will be made, outside factors overlooked, and that bad actors could intrude on your property and privacy.

Let’s be clear, our rights as Americans start with the right to property and the right to be free of overbearing government intrusion. That includes the right to use a drone without the government unreasonably inhibiting you. But if you have an issue with a drone, who are you going to call — local government, or the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)?

And good luck getting a D.C. bureaucracy to respond to your concerns!

The FAA could be doing the best job in the world, and they wouldn’t have the time or resources to devote to drone complaints (genuine or otherwise) at the same time as they manage the national airspace and look after airline traffic.

The Drone Innovation Act keeps the FAA in charge of the national airspace, but gives states and local governments a framework to place reasonable rules – and not blanket prohibitions – on how drones are used in their localities under a level of 200 feet.

Underneath that level I call ‘local airspace’. That means if your town wants drones to have several clear rights of way, they can. If your community thinks a drone curfew is appropriate, they can make that determination. And if citizens want changes regarding drones, they only have to go to the council or local representative to make sure their voice is heard.

It’s not unlike the way we regulate noise, which can be a nuisance. If your neighbor is playing loud music late at night, you don’t call the Federal Communications Commission in Washington. You call the local police, or you contact the zoning board. Similarly, if drones are buzzing your house repeatedly, or hovering over your children, you should have a local recourse to get that sorted out.

On the other hand, just because your neighbor doesn’t want to get an online delivery via drone doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be able to. And if a city or state is particularly opposed to drones, my bill protects your rights while acknowledging local responsibilities – that is, the latter can’t shut the entire territory off to commerce. We even direct the implementation of existing- and successful- UAV traffic management technology.

I want to encourage states and localities to welcome this technology, and become fertile ground for innovation. As with most things in life, it’s about finding balance and reasonable accommodations. I’m excited by what I see happening in technology, research and development; drones are leading the way. I want the U.S .to continue as a world leader here. Yet the federal government has an obligation to let local people, and states, take the first steps in matters that affect them at home.

It’s my goal to help strike that balance in Washington, D.C., whether that’s between the federal government and the states, or between Republican and Democrat. The Drone Innovation Act does just that.

Jason Lewis represents Minnesota’s 2nd Congressional District in the House of Representatives. He is a member of the Transportation & Infrastructure Committee.

The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill. 


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