Ag & Industries News

Alabama prepares for careful deliberation of drone measures as feds work toward comprehensive regulatory plan

Jan 26, 2015
From the Montgomery Advertiser: Link

Alabama Drone Task Force’s recommendations limited

Brian Lyman, Montgomery Advertiser

A state task force formed to propose regulations for drones has, for now, left the issue on the runway.

Gov. Robert Bentley formed the Alabama Drone Task Force last August as a way of addressing issues related to unmanned aerial systems, also known as drones.

The task force was charged with reviewing expected Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations on the use of commercial drones and recommending regulations on the use of drones in the state. While drones can be used for recreational purposes, non-recreational use of drones, such as research, generally requires sponsorship by a public entity, like a state agency or university.

The group was tasked with delivering a letter to the governor by Jan. 15. According the Agriculture and Industries Commissioner John McMillan, who served on the task force, the letter only included a recommendation that the Alabama Department of Transportation be designated as the lead state agency on drones, and that the task force remain together to continue studying the issue.

McMillan said in an interview last week that a delay in FAA regulations, combined with the complexity of the issue, made it difficult to develop other guidelines on drone use. “One of the reasons we wanted to continue as a group (is) we’ve collected a good bit of information, and I think we can be a resource to this administration,” he said.

The FAA is expected to release its regulations some time this year.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 20 states have passed legislation dealing with drone use; 10 states passed legislation in 2014 on the issue. Most of the bills dealt with public use of drones, and required law enforcement to obtain warrants before deploying drones; Iowa banned the use of drones in the enforcement of traffic laws.

The Alabama task force was most interested in North Carolina’s sweeping legislation, which not only regulates the use of drones in law enforcement, but also technology that can be used in certain applications while addressing privacy concerns.

“I think North Carolina has done the best job of anybody I’ve seen,” McMillan said. “They have passed legislation addressing these key issues.”

A report prepared for the North Carolina Legislature last year noted the possibility of drone use in disaster response, as well the technology’s potential for use in the private sector.

Tony Harris, a spokesman for DOT, said Friday the department was assessing the report and formulating its response.

As of Friday, no legislation related to drones had been prefiled for the 2015 Regular Session of the Alabama Legislature, which begins in March. The Alabama Senate last year approved a bill that would ban the use of drones to interfere with hunting or fishing activities; the legislation was triggered by an effort by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) to monitor hunting with drones. The legislation did not make it out of the House.

McMillan said he expected the legislature to come up with some drone-related legislation this year, though the task force itself did not recommend any. McMillan also noted that lawmakers will have their hands full with the General Fund deficit and expected legislation to address overcrowding in the state’s prisons. However, he said keeping the task force together could help the state keep up with the rapid advance of drones.

“The whole thing is going to be a moving target, with this exploding technology,” he said.


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