Lawmakers, keep eyes on the FAA’s prizeBetween the start of the North Dakota House’s debate about the privacy implications of drones and today, something changed.
By: Grand Forks Herald, Grand Forks, The Jamestown Sun
Between the start of the North Dakota House’s debate about the privacy implications of drones and today, something changed.
That something was the Federal Aviation Administration’s Feb. 14 call for applications from facilities that want to become one of six drone test sites around America.
Grand Forks is in the running, and the region’s chances are good. It’s worth local government and business leaders’ best efforts: Being named a test site could well be one of the biggest boosts to the valley’s economy in the region’s entire history.
But here’s the thing: The competition is going to be tough — and a state law that tightly regulates drone use could hurt the Grand Forks area’s chances.
That info comes from the source — namely, the FAA’s “Unmanned Aircraft Systems Test Site Selection” document. The following is from the 69-page document’s Section 18.104.22.168.14:
“Applicants that declare there are no local/state statutes limiting aircraft operations within the proposed Test Site area would be scored highest.”
The North Dakota Senate should keep such provisions in mind as it considers House Bill 1373. A few days ago, the House passed the bill, which requires law enforcement to get a warrant before using drones for surveillance on citizens.
An amendment says the bill “may not be constructed to limit, constrain or adversely impact testing and operations of a state test range under the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012.”
If the bill becomes law, then without a doubt, that clause will ease many of the FAA’s concerns.
But will it ease all of them? That’s the issue the Senate should consider.
Senators should hear testimony on the subject, then decide whether it’s worth delaying action on a drone-privacy law until after September, when the FAA’s site-selection decision is expected.
Don’t take the Grand Forks Herald’s word for this. Here’s an excerpt from a recent story in The Washington Times:
“The sector’s leading trade group, the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), is sensitive to rising privacy concerns, but also fears states may be sabotaging their own ability to cash in on the drone revolution.
“‘Depending on the provisions of specific state legislation, state officials may be working at cross-purposes — working to attract (drone) jobs on the one hand while, on the other, working to kill the job-creation potential of the technology,’ said AUVSI spokeswoman Melanie Hinton. ‘We would encourage officials in all states, and especially those seeking test sites, to work collaboratively to ensure that state legislation doesn’t undermine the job-creation potential of unmanned aircraft or a particular state’s ability to compete for a test site.’”
An AUVSI spokesman told the Chincoteague (Va.) Chamber of Commerce the same thing, Gannett News Service reports. Pending drone legislation in the Virginia General Assembly could be “a major stumbling block” to becoming a test site, he said, and added, “It would essentially stop for Virginia the creation of around 2,400 jobs.”
Congress, too, is addressing drone-privacy concerns; and sooner or later, all 50 states also seem likely to do so. But are the concerns so urgent that they must be addressed by the North Dakota Legislature in the next few weeks?
Odds are that the answer is no. But if it’s yes, then lawmakers must take great care that the result doesn’t hurt North Dakota’s chances of being named a test site.