Drone regulations expected in next legislative session

Representatives have diverging opinions on how to regulate drone use near airports

Contributing Writer
Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Rep. Raymond Gallison, Jr., D-Bristol and Portsmouth, plans to reintroduce legislation to regulate drones in November, according to a Sept. 18 General Assembly press release.

The bill would protect the privacy and safety of the general public by requiring aircraft to be registered with the Department of Public Safety. Behaviors made illegal by the bill — such as capturing or transmitting images from an occupied building — would result in a penalty of up to three years in prison in addition to or instead of a fine of up to $5,000.

Drones pose a significant threat to the public’s right to privacy, Gallison said. As such, they must be prohibited from flying close to airports, public places, schools, hospitals and government buildings, he said.

Gallison cited a recent test he witnessed, in which a drone was able to see through the window of a private home, prompting him to recognize the importance of regulating the use of drones. “To me, that’s very scary. It’s getting out of control,” he said.

The bill comes on the heels of a letter from Rep. Joe Shekarchi, D-Warwick, to the U.S. Department of Transportation at the prompting of his constituents, local business owners and aviation authorities, according to a Sept. 16 General Assembly press release.

Drone use near airports is of particular concern, especially given the recent opening of Cloud City Drones, the state’s first drone store, near T.F. Green Airport, Shekarchi said. The penalities written in Gallison’s bill are “too light,” Shekarchi said, adding that tampering with flights using an unmanned vehicle “is an act of terrorism and must be dealt with as such.”

Christopher Williams, the owner of Cloud City Drones, said he would welcome regulations but would not support any bill until he knew the law would be “reasonable and enforceable.” Regulations are par for the course in the drone business, he said. “Until we actually see (the regulations), we don’t think they’ll change our business plans at all,” he added.